Back to basics: Composition

To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them. 
                                                                                     - Elliott Erwitt

What is composition? It’s the pleasing arrangement of elements within the picture. As the photographer you ask yourself "What are the points of interest in this shot?" and "Where am I intentionally placing them?"

Why composition? How you compose a photo is what sets you apart as a photographer. It's you expressing your vision, no matter what camera you use.

Remember these “rules” are guidelines and suggestions… 

Rule of Thirds

Imagine that your image is divided into nine equal parts, think if a tic-tac-toe grid. The rule of thirds says that you position the most important elements in your scene along these lines, or at the points where they intersect. In landscapes, place horizon either above or below but not through center. 


Our eyes are naturally drawn along lines. By thinking about how you place lines in your photo, you can affect the way we view the image, pulling us into the picture. You want your views eyes to journey through the photo. There are many different types of lines - straight, diagonal, curvy horizontal, vertical, and converging. Think of roadways, paths, sidewalks, coast lines, rivers, power lines, train tracks. There are a lot of lines all around us.

Symmetry and Patterns

Symmetry and patterns are all around us. Emphasizing and highlighting patterns can make for very interesting shots. What’s even more interesting are photos that show patterns that are broken (asymmetrical).

An example of shooting a photo symmetrically would be placing the point of interest dead center of a photo where the left and right sides or the top and bottom of the photo look like mirror images of the other side. TIP: Not sure when you’re creating an image of how you want to compose it. Shoot the photo twice. Once symmetrically then again Asymmetrically. 


Think about where you will shoot it from. Don’t just shoot from eye level, consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, from a long way away, or very close. Extreme view points can make for really interesting photos but don’t endanger yourself or anyone else when you're trying to get yourself to a good vantage point. 

Balancing Elements

Placing your main subject off-centre, as with the rule of thirds, creates a more interesting photo, but it can leave a void in the scene which can make it feel empty (that’s called empty space and that’s OK too). Try to balance the "weight" of your subject by including another object of lesser importance to fill the space.


Our eyes and brain are excellent at distinguishing between different elements in a scene, the camera not so much. Camera’s have the tendency to flatten the foreground and background, and this can often ruin a great photo. This is usually easy to overcome at the time of shooting - look around for a plain and unobtrusive background and compose your shot so that it doesn't distract or detract from what you are shooting. Sometimes this requires you to move your subject, but usually it means you, the photographer have to move to make a more pleasing shot and shoot from an angle that eliminates any kind of background distractions. Also depth of field can help here too by blurring the background leaving your subject sharp in the image. 


Photography is a two-dimensional medium, it’s up to you to convey a sense of depth. You can create depth in a photo by including objects in the foreground, middle ground and background. 


The world is full of objects which make perfect natural frames, such as trees, archways and holes. By placing these around the edge of the composition you help to isolate the main subject from the outside world. The result is a more focused image which draws your eye to the main point of interest.

Remember that these rules of composition aren’t set in stone. Instead, use them as guidelines for your own ideas. Feel free experiment. Play around with these rules, Have fun! 

Next time we will take a look at some more advanced photo composition.