Monday, May 21, 2012

Composition - the strongest way of seeing

When in comes to the making of a photograph, several elements are important:

1) Subject
2) Composition
3) Exposure
4) Motion or lack of it
5) Depth of field
6) Color
7) Lighting 
8) Lens Choice
9) Shooting angle
10) Focus
11) And most important, the mood or feeling of the photograph.

All of these elements are subjective, of course. There are, however, certain guidelines that are helpful to consider before you take a shot.

For me, composition is one of the key factors, maybe one of the most important factors, in the making of a good picture. It is one factor that can be easily learned - and improved upon.

After all, you decided what you want and don't want in the frame, just like a painter who decides what and what not to paint on a canvass.

One way to learn about composition it to look at the work of other photographers. So . . . . here are a few examples of some composition techniques.

The two pictures above illustrate these composition tips:
- Place the subject off center.
- Compose following the rule of thirds (tic-tac-toe grid over the frame)
- The name of the game is to fill the frame.
- Shoot for a balanced photograph.
- The shooting angle matters.
- Isolating each of the main subjects makes them stand out in the scene.

The two pictures below illustrate the important composition technique of using a foreground element to frame your subject - as well as the importance of watching the all-important background.

For lots more on composition, see my class on Kelby Training: Composition - the strongest way of seeing.

Explore the light,


James Fike said...

Always looking to improve my composition. Sounds like a great project.

Rick Sammon said...

Hi Rick!

I would love to learn more. I'll be teaching a photography class this summer at my local community college and I'm brushing up on all my composition techniques I've learned throughout out the years any help would be appreciate so I can pass on t

Thanks so much for all your insight!

Kris Green

imlynelle said...

I love this idea. Did you also compose so your elemenst form a line, ex. the pic with the tree, house, then cowboy placed diagonally, Or a circle, the boy eating the ice cream cone?

Rick Sammon said...

imlynelle.. good eye.

i did not want to give away all my tips right out of the gate! but you are correct.

keep shooting!


Tom Baker said...

I never really thought about composition being one of the easier elements to learn. Thinking about it you're right. Not to minimize vision and artistic creativity, but there are some basic rules to follow that can make your photos much better. This is a great idea.

Then again, I still always seem to put the horizon in the middle so what do I know :)

Si said...

Hi Rick - I am a big fan. It's interesting that you listed 10 important elements (why 10? why not 11, 12 ? you must like things nice, even & neat); and I do agree that the mood of the photo (#10) is the most important aspect of them all.

Isn't it true that the first 9 is the ingredients that build up to the 10th element?

I would love to see a book dedicated on just Mood with illustration on how the 9 elements were used to successfully pull it off.


Sydney Tran

N15h1t Kau5h1k said...

Did you use flash for the picture with ICECREAM?

Rick Sammon said...


Good idea about the mood.

Since you Comment, I added yet another element.

Thank you and thank you all,

Rick Sammon said...

N..... I used fill light in Photoshop.

Peggy said...

It does sound like a great project~count me in!

Peggy said...

It does sound like a great project~count me in!

They call me Mel said...

As usual, another great post. I'm intrigued by this project. I've been trying to mentor another photographer about the basics of photography. Recently I told her to start looking into composition so this post couldn't have come at a more perfect time! Thanks Rick!
Your Biggest Littlest Fan,

José Antonio González Corredor said...

Hi Rick..!! I hope you feel better.. I´m a fan about photography and I´m following all you are teaching about it. Un Abrazo

Levent said...

Howdy Rick:

Another element I consider is something I call "edge tension" (I don't know if there is a formal name for it). For instance in the St. Marks Square shot the archway touches the edge of the frame. If only one side were to touch, then in some cases it could un-balance the composition. Of course this un-balanced look could be utilized depending on the intent of the photographer. In any case I am always carefull about objects transversing the edge of the frame. I first became aware of this element 20 years ago when I read that book I had told you about.

Best regards,

Scott said...

I think composition is too often lost on an ever more technically advanced photographer. Ansel Adams' work can sell for millions of dollars even today not because of HDR, or Photoshop trick, or even mega megapixels but rather because after much practice, he nailed composition as an artist. As I want to become more an artist with my camera, composition study is the area I plant to spend most of my training.

Scott Donald

Angel said...

I would love to learn more. Photography has always been an interest of mine; I took a course in high school but never finished it, due to not finishing high school. It’s always been something I wish I would have stuck with. Iv been taking with a Photographer near me about getting started with modeling and hopefully pick his brain about photography, and learn a thing or two.

Leigh Catley said...

Hey Rick,

I think a project on composition is a great idea. We hear alot about it, how important it is but there is not alot of learing material out there on the topic so I think you will be hitting a sweat spot.


James North said...

Your blog all post really nice and thanks for sharing fantastic blog.

Matt Jones said...


Composition is the first thing I key in on when shooting a photograph. I then work on the exposure. Like the examples you used in this post, I too love creating a path for the viewers eye to follow - but then again, it all depends on what I'm shooting! Thanks for posting something to stir up the little photo cells in my brain!

Roger said...

Thank you for the tips!
Looking forward to seeing your composition project

Ed Sacramento said...

I'd love to see you produce a "Composition" app. I have your "Lighting" app and I'll be purchasing your "HDR" app shortly.

Phil said...

Great Idea.Perfect project for our camera club.

Christine Lewis said...

I'm always always wanting to improve on composition. Any tips and examples would be great!

Mike said...

I think that sounds like a great idea, Rick. Would love to see something like that. I often pick up tips and tricks from your blog to share with my beginning photography students.

Nipun said...

Hello Rick,

I would love to learn more and contribute to this project.

Craig said...

This sounds like a great project. Composition is what I struggle with the most, and my photography suffers because of this.

Keep up the great work!