ShutterRunner's Guide To Composition

Composition is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of photography. Unfortunately, there is no algorithm or step by step instruction manual for creating an interesting looking composition. Instead, I have compiled a list of ideas which can be used as guidelines for a beginner photographer looking to create interesting images. This list is by no means comprehensive, and these rules can and should be broken at times. As you get better at photography, so will your understanding of what makes an image interesting. Directly below is a video of how I apply the various composition ideas to scenes that I encounter, below the video, you can find all of the ideas applied during fimling and a few more.

Rule of Thirds

Most new photographers are tempted to put the subject matter of the photograph in the middle of the frame. The rule of thirds suggests that instead, the subject matter(s) of our photographs should be placed along one of the two imaginary lines that divide the photograph into thirds horizontally or vertically, or better yet, at the intersections of these lines.

Rule of Thirds Example In this example, I've place the bucket of the excavator in the bottom and left third of the frame. To balance this, I've placed the cab of the excavator on the rightmost third of the frame. Additionally, the arm of the bucket follows along the top third of the frame.

Rule of Thirds Example In this example. I've placed the line created by the lake meeting the mountain along the line that runs on the bottom most third of the frame. Additionally, I've placed the logs in the foreground on the rightmost line of the frame.

Put Something in the Foreground

Another mistake that rookie photographers make, especially when shooting landscapes, is to create a photograph only with the background in mind. Often you'll see photograhs of a skyline, or perhaps just a sunset with nothing in the foreground. The foreground element is equally important to making the photograph interesting, and shouldn't be neglected.

Foreground Example In this example, it would have been tempting to focus only on the skyline and sunrise behind it. Instead, however, I chose to include the no diving sign in the foreground to add some interest to this photo
Foreground Example I like this photo as an example of including something in the foreground of a photograph, because it really demonstrates the difference between the way we find a visually pleasing scene in the real world, and how that scene is pleasing in a photograph. What I mean is that, if you consider what the man in this photo is looking at, in this case, a beautiful Parisian sunset, the scene, while beautiful on it's own, would hardly make an interesting photograph. However, by including the man himself as a foreground element to the photograph, it creates a pleasing photograph. Mind = Blown!

Symmetry

The idea of symmetry often conflicts with that of the rule of thirds. As we see in the examples below, having a nearly perfect symmetrical shot can be very compelling.

Symmetry Example
Symmetry Example

Reflection

Reflection is a great way to add interest to your photos. I am always looking for a fresh rain puddle or still lake to create reflection in my photographs, but water isn't the only way to create reflection. Windows, mirrors, glass, and shadows can all be used to create an interesting reflection.

Reflection Example
Reflection Example
Reflection Example
Reflection Example

Leading Lines

Lines can be used to navigate a viewer through a photo. Leading lines can be natural, or man made, anything from a river, to a path, or even a pattern in the floor.

Lines Example
Lines Example
Lines Example
Lines Example

Patterns and Textures

The repetition of patterns and textures can be very pleasing to the eye.

Patterns Example
Patterns Example
Patterns Example
Patterns Example

Low Perspective

Don't fall into the habit of always extending your tripod legs fully before taking a picture. Consider folding your tripod up to it's shortest height, and seeing what the scene looks like from down low. The uniqueness of a very low perspective can be pleasing to the eye.

Low Perspective Example
Low Perspective Example
Low Perspective Example

High Perspective

Similar to the low perspective, seeing things from an unusually high perspective can be equally pleasing. Consider getting up high before snapping your shutter button.

High Perspective Example
High Perspective Example
High Perspective Example

Combine 'Em

Why use only one of these ideas when you can implement multiple in the same photo?

Combined Example In this example, we are implementing a low perspective, rule of thirds, leading lines, and symmetry, all in one photo!

Break the Rules

Now it's time to take all the tips that I've laid out, ignore them completely, and do your own thing. Invent yourself, and try something unique, remember having fun is what it's all about.

Breaking the Rules Example
Breaking the Rules Example