What Is Composition In Photography?

Jeff Picoult

By Jeff Picoult

Last updated:

The main subject takes center stage in a photograph but is obviously not the sole player. Lighting, background, foreground, and other elements are also crucial to visual storytelling! 

Composition In Photography

A photographer failing to grasp the basic definition of photography composition will ruin their career before it even begins. Read on if you don’t want to fall into the same mistakes. 

What Is The Definition Of Composition In Photography?

Definition

The concept of composition in photography is straightforward: it’s the art of arranging elements within the frame of your image, quite similar to how a director positions the actors on a stage in his play. In even simpler terms, composition is how you choose to organize the scene you’re capturing visually.

Composition In design

Suppose you want to take a shot of a blooming sunflower. In that case, composition involves more than just centering the flower in the frame; you must use all relevant techniques to make the photo more captivating. 

Maybe you place the flower off-center to create a sense of mystery or position it near a colorful background so it looks twice as vibrant. Some photographers even blur the entire background to draw attention to the flower itself! All these artistic visions are part of the “composition” concept we are discussing. 

Key Elements

Points

As the fundamental building blocks of composition, they are tiny pockets of interest that instantly draw the viewer’s eye. Unlike lines, which have direction and length, points are defined by their position and often their contrast with their surroundings.

Let us simplify it for you: points don’t have a physical dimension within your photograph. Instead, they are created by elements that occupy a relatively small area within the frame, which could be anything from the glint of sunlight on a leaf to a lone, vibrant red flower in a vast green field.

Lines

Another crucial element of the composition picture is the lines. They are our visual paths, guiding the viewer’s eye through the frame to influence the overall mood of the image. 

lines In Photography

Different line types evoke different emotions. For example, vertical, straight lines suggest a strong sense of stability or strength. Diagonal lines often lend a more dynamic feel, while curved lines look and feel elegant. 

Entry-level photographers rely on physical elements within the scene to create explicit lines, such as roads, fences, horizons, or the edge of a building. 

However, imaginary lines are far more intriguing, as they are not physically present but are implied by the arrangement of different elements. The rule of thirds placements is a great example of imaginary lines, where the (invisible) intersections create points of interest for viewers despite the lack of tangible leading paths.

rule of thirds
Rule of thirds in photography

Shapes

Even a child is fully aware of what a “shape” is. We are always familiar with well-defined shapes with clear edges, like squares, rectangles, circles, and triangles. Your viewers should find those shapes in all the objects presented in the photo: buildings, windows, sun, flower petals, etc. 

Yet, beyond the physical shapes of objects, the composition also deals with conceptual shapes created by negative space and the arrangement of elements.

Specifically, the empty areas surrounding the subject (negative space) can also be considered shape. Effective usage of negative space helps accentuate the central role of your subject and create a sense of balance.

Interestingly, shapes can also act as leading lines to guide viewers through the photograph. For example, a winding path through a forest can be seen as a long, general S-shaped line inviting the audience deeper into the scene.

Texture

Texture In Photography

Texture exists on any object within the frame, from the smooth skin of a fruit to the rough bark of a tree trunk. It all boils down to the visual interpretation of surface characteristics!

Sometimes, the entire subject of your photograph might be defined by its texture. Think of a close-up shot of a knitted scarf, a pile of autumn leaves, or the cracked surface of an ancient artifact. 

Most critics agree that texture is one of the best emotion-evoking elements. Rough and weathered surfaces instantly make viewers’ minds wander to dark, decayed corners, while smooth and silky textures scream luxury — which explains their massive popularity in fashion campaigns.

Nevertheless, one of the most common mistakes of beginner photographers is their overuse of competing textures. If you want to highlight a particular texture, simplify the background elements to avoid unnecessary clutter.

Photographic Composition Techniques To Improve Your Photos

Balance Your Images

Not all elements are created equal. For example, bright red flowers will have more visual weight than a small patch of green grass! 

So, before taking a shot, you must think carefully about how the weight of elements is distributed throughout the frame. Some of our suggestions:

Balance Your Images
  • A large subject off-center can be balanced by a smaller element with stronger visual weight (like a bright color) on the opposite side. Likewise, you can offset a large object on one side with a group of smaller objects with a similar total visual weight on the other side.
  • Colors opposite each other on the color wheel are considered complementary colors, which can create a visually dynamic balance when used strategically. A photo with a dominant blue subject (like a blue heron) can incorporate small touches of orange (the complementary color) in the background, perhaps through fall foliage or a flower.

See more: 12 Principles & Elements Of Design In Photography

Post-processing Cropping

Sometimes, the perfect shot requires moving just slightly to the left or zooming in a bit. Cropping lets you fix these minor framing issues and make the subject look even more dominant. Remember our classic composition rules (leading lines and the rule of thirds) for more balance!

How about those unwanted elements at the frame edges? No worries; cropping banishes them in a blink. And since not every photo needs the standard rectangular format, feel free to create a panoramic view for a landscape shot or a tighter close-up if that’s portrait photography.

Common Composition Mistakes and How To Fix

  • The Subject Is Too Centered (Fix: Rule of Thirds Grid): This is our all-time classic fix. Imagine your frame divided into thirds by lines, then place your subject where the lines intersect for a more successful composition. 
  • Small Subjects (Fix: Move In): Does your main subject feel lost in the frame? Get closer or zoom in to give it more presence!
  • Foreground Flop (Fix: Add Interest): If you feel like the empty space in front of your subject adds nothing, consider adding foreground elements like a flower or leading lines to guide the viewer’s eye. Refer to the key compositional features above for more guidance. 

Conclusion

Experts might use many complex terms when discussing the definition of composition photography, but it all boils down to how your subject interacts with every essential element in its surrounding space. 

Keep that in mind, and you’re on the right track! Feel free to reach out if you need more composition guidelines.


Share on:
Jeff Picoult

Jeff Picoult

Photographer

Jeff Picoult is a seasoned photographer, who blends artistry and innovation. With a humble approach, he captures moments resonating with depth and emotion, from nature's beauty to the energy of sports.

Leave a Comment