When I first started out in photography, I had no knowledge of any compositional techniques. I was completely focused on learning my camera, shooting in manual mode and grabbing focus ( which are all good and necessary things of course) So it wasn’t a surprise that my images lacked interest and creativity. I was pretty disappointed with my images as they looked more like snapshots than powerful storytelling photographs. My dissatisfaction grew until I realized I needed to understand some basic compositional rules . When I started utilizing these 7 techniques, it transformed my photography. There are more techniques than this, but this is a basic starting point. Here they are in no particular order.
Rule of Thirds
Size of Subject
Utilizing one or more of these techniques will make your imagery stronger because they are ways of guiding the viewers eye towards the most important elements of your work- sometimes in a very specific order. Composition can transform even the dullest of objects or surroundings.
Let’s take a look at each technique in more detail.
Rule of Thirds
A guide line that proposes that an image sill has more energy and interest by dividing it into 9 equal parts by 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines, and placing your subject along those lines… for example: The image of the plant below. Notice how the leaves( the subject of the picture) are on the right side? If you divided this image into the previously discussed grid, you would see that the subject is placed along these lines. The same idea applies to the image of my daughter potty training above.
2. Leading Lines
This refers to a technique where the viewers attention is drawn to the lines that are leading to your subject….. for example, as you can see below, my son and daughter are looking out at something on the other side of the fence. Notice how the shadow of the fence is acting as a leading line, leading your eye right to them.
This is a way to use elements within your image to fame the subject you are creating a frame within a frame . Some examples are doorways, windows curtains branches fences etc… The image above, my boys are being framed by the ceiling and one of my boys is also being framed by the window that he is looking out of. Below, my daughters sitting under one of my accent tables and the legs and top are framing them.
This is referring to an imaginary line splits and image in half and both sides are mirror images of each other. In this case you can put a subject in the center of the frame. The image below of my daughter looking straight into the camera is the only one I could find as an example of symmetry. Technically it’s not symmetrical straight out of camera, but I darkened the background in post processing and she is now centered and the image appears the same on both sides.
The space in front and in the direction of moving or stationary subjects….. Below my daughter is attempting to blow a dandelion and it’s important that there is space in front of her so that your eye can envision the direction the dandelion seeds will go. As you can see she had a hard time getting the seeds to disperse, but you can still imagine this happening because of the leading room.
Basically giving a 2 dimensional image the feel of 3 dimensions. This is more engaging to the viewer and helps them to explore the scene rather than just observe. The image below of my daughter asleep on the dining room chair has a feeling of 3 dimentionality because of the layering. Notice how the refrigerator is closer to the camera and serving as a type of leading line towards the chair? The chair is the next closest object to the camera and then next up is my daughter. Notice how this all leads your eye from front to back giving the image more depth?
Using the relationship between two objects to clue viewers in on how big, or small your subject is. Below you can see how small my daughter is in relation to the shed and the trees surrounding her.
So there you have it! 7 compositional techniques that will improve your photography. There’s no need to try and use all of these techniques at once ( Though you will find that some will naturally overlap) Focus on one technique at a time until you’ve mastered it. Once you feel you’ve gotten the hang of each technique, try adding multiple techniques together in one image. Which technique do you like the most? Let me know in the comments below!
Now stick around and head over to Child Photographer Tampa, Dana DiSalvo’s Blog and check out her most recent portrait session. So beautiful and inspiring, don’t miss it!
Interested in my FREE PDF on Lowlight Photography? Go ahead and grab yours below!