How to use composition in your photography

photo composition photography compossitions

The composition of your photos is the difference between a good photo and a bad one. A poor composition can make an otherwise decent photograph look boring or amateur, while a strong composition can turn that same photograph into something spectacular.

The human eye scans subjects from left to right in patterns called “visual paths.” When you want someone looking at where you want them to be looking, you need to lead their eyes there through the use of these visual paths. Learning about visual path  will help you improve your compositional skills exponentially.

Figure 1 – This image by has several points of interest, but none are standing out because they aren’t being emphasized any diagonal lines.

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Lines are the most effective way to lead someone’s attention through an image. The lines you can use are not limited to literal lines drawn with a pencil, but also the many different paths that exists within an image. If you want someone looking at where you want them to look, you must draw their eyes there using these various visual paths. Lines can be diagonal, horizontal, or vertical; anything that leads your eye somewhere is considered a line.

Figure 2 – This photo has strong leading lines in nearly every frame of it which lend themselves to guide the eyes of the audience naturally throughout the photo.

Photo by Cam Casey

Most images will only have one or two prominent lines, if any at all; don’t rely on more than one or two sets of powerful diagonal lines to do most of the work.

Another way to lead someone’s eyes through an image is by having certain elements in the foreground and background, with the subject of interest directly behind or in front of them. Make sure that they focus on where you want them to be focusing, and make it obvious which element you’d like them to notice first with this method.

Figure 3 – This photo uses leading lines and depth of field (DoF) to lead your eye from the foreground all the way back to the cityscape just beyond it.

Photo by Benjemin Suter

In a more complex landscape, some overlap can occur between these multiple layers as well as diagonal planes if there are any mountains or tall structures involved.

Remember that depth of field is not limited to how far you can focus on, but also what parts are acceptably sharp or blurred.

Figure 4 – Even though there are no literal lines in this photo, the rows of trees that lead all the way up the mountain create a pleasing composition.

Photo credits DrawMyCar

Area proportions are what makes an image balanced or unbalanced . Proportion refers to assigning space within your frame to certain elements so they look proportional , or equally important. Whether you want your subject surrounded by lots of negative space (the area around them) or smack dab in the middle with other subjects surrounding it determines how attractive your photo will appear to others. A common misconception with proportion is that you should always include an odd number of subjects, but it actually has nothing to do the number of elements in your photo; what’s important is how they’re distributed and balanced within the frame.

Figure 5 – This photo is perfectly balanced with a 1:1 area ratio.

Photo by Kammeran Keola

You can get a feel for proportions by imagining your frame divided into squares. The larger the positive space (the area around your subject), the more dominant it becomes; small amounts of negative space will make your subject appear submissive to the rest of the photo.

Figure 6 – By having an off-center subject in the foreground, this photo gains a more interesting composition.

If you’d like your subject to appear strong instead of submissive, try placing it somewhere unexpected with an area ratio of 5:3 or 7:2. This will make them look prominent in comparison to their surroundings.

Good images tend to have subjects which are closer to the center of the frame. By aligning your subject with one of the thirds, you can avoid centering them in an otherwise mediocre photo.

Figure 7 – By positioning this woman’s head at the intersection points between the thirds, she becomes very powerful in the image.

You can still make it seem like there’s more room in the frame by positioning them somewhere along one of the second-third lines. This will give off a perspective that they’re much further away and larger than life instead of squished into the corner.

Figure 8 – By placing this deer along one of the second-third lines, it looks like a herd of deer is behind him even though only one is visible.

If you have a very large subject that takes up most of your frame and just want to add some minor details in the scene, you can use small areas of negative space for contrast on them instead of on your main subject. To make less interesting subjects stand out from everything else, try placing them near major lines or intersections on your frame’s grid.

Figure 9 – This lone butterfly contrasts with its surroundings while also remaining strong in its own right by being placed near third-third line.

For those who are particularly fond of a certain element in their image, you can make them stand out even more by placing other elements along the other third-third line. This will give it a very prominent place within your frame.

Figure 10 – The three flowers of this photo contrast with the surrounding negative space and also draw attention to one another.

As seen in figure 2, if lines actually intersect in your scene, try positioning your subject next to one side or another instead of right across from where they meet. By aligning an off-center subject with these intersections, you’ll create balance that feels much more natural than doing otherwise would.

It is important to have a well-balanced composition in your photography. The size of the negative space matters, so learn about how it can affect your photo’s balance. When you know the rules, you can break them to your advantage instead of letting them break you.

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