Principles of Photographic Composition 

 
The basic principles of any artistic composition concerns things which influence the way in which the components are used. In a landscape the components are such things as: ground form, structures & plants. Inside a building, the components are the walls, floor, ceiling, furniture, doors, perhaps the people in the room etc. When photographing people, the components are the background (sky, wall, tree etc), the foreground, the person, their clothing, anything they might be holding etc. Always, you need to see the components of a photograph organized into a pleasing composition of spaces to satisfy the affect desired by the photographer. Sometimes the photographer is able to move components to achieve a better composition.....at other times the photographer must move himself to a position which provides him with the best composition.
Some of the principles which can be used are discussed below:

Unity
By grouping, placing or arranging in such a way that several individual components appear to have a sense of oneness and unity is achieved. A desirable appearance needs to be achieved from all points of view. A repetitive pattern can be used to create unity. A lawn or water surface spreading through a garden can be used to tie other components together creating a sense of unity. Unity can be achieved by using components of similar texture, forming or colour or by enclosing an area as a unit.


Balance
This refers to equilibrium either symmetrical or asymmetrical. With symmetrical balance there is duplication on either side of an imaginary line of components in terms of line, form or colour. Asymmetrical balance involves dissimilar placement of different objects or masses on either side of the same sort of imaginary line, but in a way that equilibrium exist (the picture does not seem to have too much on one side and not enough on the other).

Proportion
This refers to proper sizing or scaling of components in relation to each other and to the total picture. A two hundred foot tree is not in proportion in a small courtyard; neither is a bonsai in proportion in the middle of a large expanse of lawn.

Harmony
This refers to the way different parts of the picture fit together. Harmony is usually the objective. However, not always in all parts of the design. A photo with harmony has a relaxing affect on the viewer.

Contrast
Contrast is in opposition to harmony and should not be overdone. Occasional contrasts to the harmony of a picture will create an eye catching feature in the photograph adding life and interest to an area which would otherwise be dead. If all of the foliage is a similar texture or colour, by having one plant of a different texture or colour in the middle a contrast is created which provides a focal point in the garden. A tall adult standing amongst a group of children, or a well dressed man amongst a group of bikini clad women provides a contrast affect.
Contrast grabs a person's attention. It is useful in photos which are trying to get the viewer to sit up and notice something (e.g. In advertising).

Rhythm
Rhythm is a conscious repetition of equal or similar components in the picture. It is usually created by repetition & transition.

The Rule of Thirds

The "Rule of Thirds" is a core principle often used in composing a photograph. It can be described as follows:

  1. Imagine what you see in a photograph, and divide the picture into 3 equal sections horizontally and 3 sections vertically. Mark two points along the top of the photo, and two down the side. Imagine (or draw) two lines down from the top points and two across from the side points. This will divide the photo up into 9 boxes (rectangles or squares) 

  2. The centre of interest in any photo should be at one of the points where these lines intersect. There will be four such points. 

  3. When the key elements of a photo are found at these points; you will discover that the photo somehow looks better.

The ‘Rule of Thirds’ is very popular among all types of artists, from painters to photographers.   
As well as using the intersections you can arrange areas into bands occupying a third or place things along the imaginary lines. As you can see it is fairly simple to implement. Good places to put things; third of the way up, third of the way in from the left.

Using the "Rule of Thirds" can assist in creating nicely balanced, and easy on the eye pictures. Also, as you have to position things relative to the edges of the frame it helps get rid of the 'tiny subjects surrounded by vast empty space' syndrome.

Once you have got the hang of the "Rule of Thirds" you will very quickly want to break it!  These 'rules' are best used as guidelines and if you can create a better image by bending or ignoring rules then fire away. 

The "Rule of Thirds" is fairly structured but there are a great many methods you can employ which rely on your ability to 'see' things and incorporate them into your composition. 


Study Photojournalism or see our range of photographic courses that we have on offer.


Read our ebook on Photographic Techniques