Saturday, March 19, 2016

Understanding Composition in Photography in 2 Steps. Step 2: Understanding Rules of Composition (Principles of Organization).

 “Composition is the strongest way of seeing.” Edward Weston
We know already that photographers use composition (elements of composition + rules of composition) to express their ideas.  
The photographer determines the center of interest for his image and uses the elements and rules of composition accordingly.

Keeping in mind that there are no absolute rules of composition, let’s list them. 

Basic rules of composition (almost all authors include these elements as the rules of composition):

1) the rule of thirds,
2) the golden mean (the golden ratio),
3) the rule of odds,
4) the rule of space.

The 2nd group of rules of composition (many authors include these elements as the rules of composition):

5) simplification,
6) the rule of contrast,
7) the rule of isolation,
8) the rule of sharpness,
9) the rule of balance,
10) the rule of unity.

The rule of thirds.

There’s a view that this is one of the most popular rules of composition in photography.

 Just imagine that the area of your photo is breaking down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically; that will give you 9 equal boxes and four crossing points.

By placing your points of interest in the crossing points or along the lines you’ll have a balanced image.

The golden mean.

There’s a point of view that the rule of thirds is a simplification of the golden mean.
 Maybe it’s true.

Applying this rule, you need to divide the frame into thirds of 1:0.618:1 (not the equal thirds of 1:1:1 as in the Rule of thirds).

You can also apply this rule by placing the main point of interest within the inside of the Golden Spiral.

The rule of odds.

Applying the rule of odds, the photographer incorporates an odd number of subjects into an image.

 It is considered that an odd number of subjects in the image are more interesting than an even number.

This can be explained by the fact that people like to focus on a center and the center is empty if you have an even number of elements.

The rule of space.

This rule states that moving objects need a space into which they appear to move.

Applying this rule, the photographer creates a sense of activity or movement in his composition by using negative space (that is a space around and between objects).


I found some interesting quotes about simplification. I think they will help to understand this rule better than the longer explanation.

“It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Colin Chapman

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein

“Simplification is the art of eliminating distractions until you are left with only the most important visual elements.” Andrew Gibson

The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.
This is also true for photography.

If you notice something in the frame which doesn't help you to tell a story, you need to eliminate distractions.

Simplification is not limited to minimalism and can be used in different styles of photography.


There are different ways to highlight the main subject of the image.

 One of them is to use isolation.

 You can isolate the main subject using depth-of-field, lighting, textures or contrasting colors.

The rule of contrast.

Contrast is a principle of art with arrangement of opposite elements (light vs. dark colors, rough vs. smooth textures, large vs. small shapes, etc.) in a piece so as to create visual interest, excitement and drama.

To get the most contrast in your image use the narrowest aperture possible for light conditions or the fastest shutter speed possible for light conditions.

Color contrast is used to achieve good compositions.

The rule of sharpness
Sharpness is the contrast along edges in your photo.

Keep in mind that sharpness is important, but only as one aspect of taking a good photo. A photo is about a subject (a human, a thing or emotion, etc.).

When a viewer looks at a photo, unless it's really blurry, sharpness is not a problem for him.
And some photos even benefit from being a little blurry.

The rule of balance.

Balance in photography has to do with how big, how many, and where the objects are placed in the composition.

In photography balance has nothing to do with physical weight, but rather is about so called visual weight.

If a photo has more objects or larger objects on one side (or top or bottom) of the composition, the visual weight is “heavier” on that side of the image. In this case the composition is considered “unbalanced”.

The composition will appear to have similar visual weight on each side (and will appear balanced) when there are the same numbers of objects, the same amount of elements of composition (for example, bright colors) or the same total size of objects on both sides.

You can achieve balance through symmetry. If the lighter weight is located at a greater distance from the center, we can balance a heavy weight on the other side.


A principle of art, unity occurs when all of the elements of a piece combine to make a balanced, harmonious, complete whole.

Unity makes a composition feel complete and finished.

When all the elements in the image look as though they belong together, the photographer has achieved unity.


Now you know the rules of composition.
  Keep in mind that they are guidelines for you.

Never be afraid to experiment.
 Never be afraid to break the rules and try something different.

Happy shooting!

Thank you for reading!

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