When you think of composition in photography, what are the first things that comes to mind? Rule of thirds. Fill the Frame. Leading lines. Depth. Repetition. If you are really educated, you may also think of perspective, angles, and color.
The world of artistic composition actually includes quite a bit more than you may think. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just like with the basic rules of composition, you can train your eye to identify the other principles of composition, making your photos more dynamic than you thought possible.
Learning advanced composition is simpler than you may think. You only need to focus on one word: Geometry.
Yes. That course that you took in High School actually can have great influence in your photographic composition. In fact, many artists can subconsciously identify the shapes through a viewfinder, but they wouldn’t necessarily realize it unless pointed out by someone else.
Using rectangles is a close likeness to Rule of Thirds. However, rather than keeping each section of your frame equal, you can use rectangles of varying sizes to place your subject. In this image the rectangles make up the bottom half of the frame, and the left side of the frame, isolating the light pol as the subject.
I love using circles in photographs. You can capture a certain energy with the motion of a circular line, and also lead your eye through the frame. You can use full circles, or half circles to compose with those curves. The use of circles in this shot draws you into the depth of the scene, allowing you to take in the water and reflection, and the backdrop of the mountains.
Triangles are perhaps the easiest shape to find when composing your images. Go back and look through your photos, and see if you can consistently find triangles. These angles naturally create a depth of composition and interest to your photographs. The separate areas along the fence create a natural flow for your eye to come to the mountain – and even that is in the shape of a triangle.
While you may not look through your viewfinder and say to yourself “I should use a polygon for this image”, you may be surprised by how the use of those shapes help your photographs make sense visually. In this image the Polygon is created by flowers in the foreground – and also a contrast between the light and dark areas.
Squares make excellent frames, and also provide incredible interest with repetition. With this image, the square is in the very middle of the frame, created by the chairs and my subject. Squares are also a part of the background with the books and bookshelves.
Arches have the similar natural motion of circles, but these may be more a part of the background than a complete shape in itself. The heart shape of the hands in the background create 3 arches – which also frame the flower itself.
It can be very difficult to use lines well. But not only is it possible, when used, these parallel and converging lines can be quite effective for composing background elements. In this shot there are both. The lines pews mirroring one another, and the direction of the pews leading you in toward the subject.
Having a solid understanding of space will add additional strength and storytelling to your photos. As you see with this image – which is compositionally quite simple – there is more established by how close the viewer is to bench, and then how much space and emptiness there is behind. These elements can lead the viewer to create a story from their own experience or emotions.
Spend a bit of time taking one element at a time, and practicing your compositional techniques. You may not master the advanced principles right away, but you certainly will enjoy the challenge!