Photographic composition: the Mega guide with tips and tricks

As a photographer you’re done get started or take it as a time in this world you may have realized the importance of photographic composition. Composing a photograph is the way that you have to explain the story that contains your image.

That is to say, without a good composition, then we can only get certain disordered elements within a frame. It is when we order when we do that our image explain the story that we want to tell: the composition is the language of our photos. Once we learn to speak this language, we speak without thinking.

And like all languages, photographic composition requires rules, tricks and rules. If you’ve heard that the composition is innate and cannot be learned, lucky that you’re here, and I can tell you that is false. At the end of reading this mega guide, you will realize that you have all the knowledge necessary to make great compositions that do speak to your photos. Because the composition, as with any language, is learned.

So I recommend you to follow me because I’ll show you. Oh, maybe it’s a good idea to save this mega guide in your favorites, so that you can attend to her every time you have a doubt that Said, I introduce the topics that we will discuss today.

What is composition in photography?

The composition is the art of identifying and placing the elements in the frame to produce an image that is consistent.

Through the composition, we managed to generate a reaction in the viewer. Because, while there are standards and rules that should be known, what is certain is that a large part of the composition is based on emotion, on our own when we conceive of the image, and in that of the viewer observing it.

Composing is, therefore, to convey our excitement, our history, through the place and the way in which we put the elements protagonists of an image.

How to make a good photographic composition?

To compose a picture, the first thing to identify in a picture is the center of interest or focal point of our image. Once decided, the composition takes care to place it in the place and manner appropriate to give the limelight.

This is done through what are known as rules of composition. Let’s see them one by one.

Rules of composition in photography

The rules of composition in photography allow us to guide the gaze of the viewer in the order and meaning that we decide to, with the aim to highlight our protagonist and center of interest.

Below, I show you the most used and with which you will get better results immediately.

The rule of thirds in composition

Sure you’ve heard of it on more than a occasion. The rule of thirds is based on placing the center of interest in one of the strong points of the image. These strengths are derived from dividing the frame in three horizontal lines and three vertical. The place where they cross those lines is what we call the strong point of the image. You have all detailed in this article on the rule of thirds.

The negative space in the composition

The negative space is another resource compositional very interesting to emphasize the center of interest of your photography. It is based on the “less is more” sometimes it’s just as effective at photography. That is to say, compose through a flat bottom or with little information, with the objective of highlighting the main character of the composition.

Balance in photographic composition

A balanced composition tends to be a picture that works. Through the color, shape or visual weight among other features, you can get the balance, with the order or the balance of your photographs.

The law of the look in composition

The law of the look is applied to the portraits and teaches us where to leave space for our image take a breath and look balanced.

Skip this law can be interesting if you want to convey the opposite: distress or lack of freedom.

In this article you will find many, many examples constructed by applying the law of eyes in portrait photography.

The law of the horizon in photographic composition

Another trick to compose is to apply the law of the horizon. This is based on dividing the frame horizontally into three parts. Once you have more or less done, what we do to highlight the area of the sky or the area of earth, is that this area occupies 2 of the 3 parts of the scene.

That is to say, if you want to highlight the sky in an image, let it occupies 2 of the 3 parts in your frame. Instead, if you want to highlight the ground, the sky only would take up 1 of the three parts of the frame, while the area of the ground, would occupy 2 of the 3.

This image that I show you below are based on the law of the horizon, do you see how the sky occupies approximately 2 of the 3 parts of the framing of the scene?

Fill the frame in a photo composition

Not only minimalism living the compositions, or much less ;). The technique of filling the frame, or Fill the frame as they say the English-speaking people, is a form of easy-to-your protagonist is the undisputed center of your image.

We usually use it in portraits, but any center of interest may be a good candidate to fill the frame.

The lines in photographic composition

Lines are an element in composition key in your photographs. Are able to act as arrows that carry the look through the frame in the way that we determine.

Each type of line transports us to the image of different shape, the curves are curvy and sensual, the diagonals are full of tension and the horizontal are associated with peace and calm.

In this article you’ll be able to see all the types of lines in depth, I recommend that you take a look.

The rhythm in photographic composition

The rhythm is an element of photographic composition and is based on the provision of forms and repeated in an orderly fashion, and constant or variable.

The rhythm can bring harmony, or tension depending on if it is interrupted or not. In both cases, is a very dynamic to your compositions that has many possibilities.

The vanishing point in photographic composition

The vanishing point is the place where we come together the lines in a plane of a real or imaginary. Allows us to add depth to the image, something very important because, as you already know, the picture is to represent the reality, but it is found that the reality is three-dimensional and photography only two.

The vanishing point allows, therefore, to provide three-dimensionality and depth to the image. It is a very interesting element, and with a lot of power visual, learn how to use it as an element of composition will be very useful for adding interest to your image. You’ll see that there are many more ways to use the vanishing point than you can imagine :).

The perspective in photographic composition

The perspective in composition is another of the ways that we have add interest and depth to our images. There are different ways to use the perspective: linear, aerial, forced, etc

Each one of them will help you tell your story in a different way, always remember the importance of changing the point of view and analyze the scenario that you have in front of it to get the angle most interesting part of your image. It move it!!

The human element in the composition

Add a human element to your compositions tends to be a guarantee of success ;). Allows you to, for example, to add a sense of scale or dynamism but, above all, helps you to tell a story and to catch the attention of the viewer.

The number three as a compositional element

The number three has a magical aura used throughout the history in multiple scenarios. Also in composition three elements are a magical combination.

Allows you to play with compositions in triangle, breaking the rhythm or create a sense of depth.

The point of view in your compositions

The point of view can convert an image anodyne in an impressive. If you are a photographer, a contortionist, ahem…, sure you already know what we’re talking about (climb a bank, flopping on the ground, making strange postures is what is going with you ).

Well… congratulations! This is one of the best ways to get different scenes and attractive, vary the point of view is the first step to making an interesting composition.

The aperture in photographic composition

You may wonder how you can be the opening of the diaphragm an element of the composition. Well, the aperture is not only based on the amount of light that passes to the sensor of the image.

The aperture is directly linked to the depth of field. And the depth of field is another thing that the amount of area in focus in an image. I’ll explain in this video:

It allows, therefore, to isolate the protagonist by blurring the background, or make it part of the environment. This is why a compositional element of the most interesting, to the couple that visually helps us a lot with the narration of the story.

The focal length and the photo composition

Another item that does not always associate to the composition is the focal length of our goals, but it is, surely the first aspect, and the most decisive one, in which you have to watch out for.

Because, for a start, the focal length defines the portion angle or scene that you will be able to capture with your camera, and also influences aspects such as depth of field, lines, or the arrangement of the elements in the image.

The symmetry and composition in photography

Another way to play with the balance in your compositions is through the symmetry. Reflections in lakes, mirrors, or other surfaces where the weight is distributed on both sides of the axis of the frame in a balanced way.

Symmetry provides a sense of order, and can be very visually appealing.

The natural settings in composition

The natural framework is a resource in very simple but able to provide some very interesting results in your photos.

We refer to as the natural elements such as doors, windows, arches, or any item that allows you to frame your center of interest within the frame.

Up to here the main rules of composition, you have summarized in our visual infographic with the 10 golden rules about composition. Sometimes, less is more ;).

To tell stories through photo composition

Storytelling should always be the end goal of any of our photos. Because the photographers we write with light , and if we write, is always to try to convey something, an idea, a feeling, a decisive moment.

What to keep in mind when telling stories? Aspects such as the context, the light, the composition, and even the title of an image, are the ones that help to get our message across.

If you want to be an expert in storytelling photography, don’t miss the comprehensive guide to tell stories through photography, worth it.

The color in photo composition

The color is a compositional element with a lot of force. Combine the colors or to learn how a specific color affects the perception we have of an image, it will let you dominate the composition in your photographs.

  • The warm tones: are the oranges, yellows, and ochres, transmit warmth and seem to come in the frame.
  • The cool tones: is the green, violet and blue, convey coolness and seem to get away on the frame.
  • Complementary colors: are face-to-face in the chromatic circle and generate a lot of contrast between them.
  • The harmonic color: are those that are next to each other on the color circle, and together they generate a feeling of harmony.

I recommend that you also take a look at our article to learn how to play with color in your photographs.

The background composition

The background often be forgotten about in our photographs, but it is also one of the elements that can help to elevate or break a photograph.

A good image can be terribly affected by a poor background. Imagine a great portrait, focused, with a beautiful light, a penetrating gaze… and suddenly! a litter that appears behind the side of his head! What a mess, right? Well, no, it is not a joke, it would not be the first time you go through something like this ;P

The first thing, therefore, is to be aware of this and act so that, if the background is not too favorable, worry about changing it. How? Here are some ideas:

  • Vary the angle: moving until you have a background you like.
  • To change the main character of a place or remove nuisances of the fund if you have the possibility.
  • Blur through the aperture.
  • Get closer to the protagonist.

Composition in portrait photography

To compose a good portrait is essential to get a good result.

Some aspects to consider when composing a portrait as we have seen throughout this guide, but these are the most applicable to the composition of a picture:

  • The law of the look.
  • The rule of thirds.
  • The framing natural.
  • Fill the frame.
  • Use the color as a compositional element.
  • Framing also in the vertical.
  • Take care of the background (you can desenfocarlo through the aperture).
  • Take into account the focal length of your lens. The most recommended are those that range from 50 to 105 mm approximately.
  • Always sharpen the eyes with few exceptions aware and creative.

If yours is the portrait, have a look at the mega guide you prepared 10 tips for portrait photography where there will be no question is left unanswered.

Composition in landscape photography

To get a landscape we call the attention beyond what “nice” is not easy. Exisisten countless images of spectacular landscapes that don’t tell us much beyond that. That “plus” that makes it not take off the eyes from the picture, it usually has to do with a good photographic composition.

When composing your landscape I recommend that you focus especially on:

  • Working the lines, the vanishing point or perspective.
  • Use the rule of thirds when you offer an interesting composition.
  • The symmetries.
  • Patterns (rhythm and break the rhythm).
  • The natural settings.
  • The depth of field and sharpness.

Composition in black and white photography

Composition in black and white photography cobra utmost importance. To strip the image of your color, we focus a lot more on the shape and the arrangement of the elements.

Here are the tricks are essential to succeed in your compositions in grayscale:

  • Identifies a center of interest.
  • Use the rule of thirds to place your character within the frame.
  • Look for the lines, are powerful compositional elements to direct the viewer’s gaze.
  • Fits on horizontal and vertical.
  • Look for patterns, playing with the rhythm and break the rhythm.
  • Less is more, many items are difficult to read and can divert attention from the main subject.
  • Looking for different points of view and original.
  • It plays with the contrast between lights and shadows.
  • Fits through natural settings (windows, doors, arches, trees…).
  • Practice with the negative space.
  • Or fill the frame.
  • Play with lights and shadows as a compositional element more.

Tricks on photo composition

Beyond the rules of composition, we have many tricks you can use to create our compositions. Here the most important:

  • Scale: add an element recognizable give us a sense of scale in our photographs, it is important, especially in landscapes where without a reference, the proportions can easily be lost.
  • The human element: adds a natural interest to the image and it will help also with the previous point ;).
  • To simplify: when in doubt, less is more. It is more difficult to compose a picture with a lot of items that one with less. If the thing you are complicated, simplify.
  • The center of interest: get always the question: what is the protagonist of my image? Once settled, put all your knowledge and creativity to work in a good composition that makes you stand out.
  • If the image is based on the shape, try to transform it to black-and-white.
  • On the contrary, never transformed into a black-and-white a scene that is held by the colour.
  • The reflections can give much play in photographic composition. For both compositions symmetric to the asymmetric.
  • Change the angle: be daring and original, look for different points of view and interesting.
  • Keep the horizon straight: it’s easy to fix in the editing but it will force you to crop the image. Photography should always come out of the camera as perfect as possible.
  • Framed in vertical: we do not typically be as natural and, therefore, there are fewer images in this format. Give it a try, you’ll see how the picture changes radically.
  • Focus on the eye closest to the camera in a portrait.
  • Playing with the shadows can be very interesting in your photographic compositions.
  • Take into account the “side effects” of the focal distance and play with them in your compositions.
  • The encuadre natural is a resource that is very interesting when you have an image of something flat.
  • Play to break up the pace and balance of the image to get different photos.

Most common errors in composition

Raise your hand who has committed one of these errors in composition. We are many, there is no doubt this luck is that (re)to get to know them is the best way to avoid them. Here I leave you the most-repeated:

  • Compositions focused.
  • Center of interest is unclear.
  • Images crowded elements are impossible to read.
  • Frames are boring or uninteresting.
  • Lack of depth.

Books on composition in photography

There is much literature related to the composition in photography. Personally, I recommend any of the following title:

If you arrived here, to congratulate you, because I’m sure as hell that this article is going to help you improve your compositions, without a doubt. Don’t forget that practice is the most important thing, to try new things, be creative, and never settle. David Burnett have said, “The satisfaction comes from working together to 500 photographers and come out with something different”.

Happy photography.