What Is Composition? A Photographer’s Information

This is Chapter 2 in our multi-part guide,   Composition in Digital photography , which shows you how to compose photos which are as effective as possible. Within this section, I’ll define composition and explain why it’s such a powerful tool to take better photos.

NIKON D800E + 105mm f/2. 8 @ 105mm, ISO 100, 1/640, f/3. 5

Table of Contents

The Definition of Composition

Each time you take a photo, you end up making conscious decisions about what items to include or exclude. You also choose how to arrange the objects that are in your frame. Therefore , what is composition? It is simply the arrangement of the elements within your photo.

I know that plenty of people have more complicated definitions of composition, yet they’re only adding dilemma for the sake of adding confusion. Eventually, everything you hear about composition boils down to the arrangement of the elements in your photo – and exactly how that arrangement makes a picture succeed or fail.

That said, capturing a  good composition is far from simple.   (Hence the multi-article guide you’re reading today; you’re only on post two of eight. ) But that’s even more reason to keep things simple when you are able. If you’re struggling on where you can even start when making a photo, think back to the basic principles. Your photo has points in it; your job is to set up them.

NIKON D7000 + 24mm f/1. 4 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/1600, f/1. 4

The Strongest Way of Viewing

Required is just how to arrange the sun and rain in your photo effectively – and the answer is to arrange them in a way that brings about meaning.

For instance , picture an image in your head. A shadow is no longer just a shadow. It’s a line leading to a vase of bouquets; the vase is the same color as a clock within the wall; the hands on the particular clock point back to the shadow.

Does not that sound like a planned photo? With just 2 tools – lines plus colors – the (hypothetical) photographer in this case has was able to thread together different items and give them more meaning.

One of my favorite quotes about photography is the fact that good composition is “the strongest way of seeing. ” Who said that? None other than Edward Weston , among the best street photographers ever and a master of composition.


Putting “the strongest way of seeing” into practice isn’t easy, but I believe it all depends upon emotion. Think of it like this: Your composition should complement your subject. If you’re shooting an intense, apocalyptic storm impair overhead, feel free to arrange an intense, apocalyptic composition! Get their feelings on the same page.

If you’re not sure how to catch an intense composition, don’t be concerned. First off, this guide is 90% about answering that precise question. But second, it is all surprisingly intuitive. In this  particular example with the storm, an intense composition may be one where the horizon is usually along the bottom edge from the photo and the sky will be filled with sharp, dramatic outlines – things like that. You may go so far as to boost comparison in post-processing to make the impact even stronger.

Ultimately, I find it useful to have the same two questions going through my head when I’m taking a photo: “What feelings are my subjects giving off? And how can I arrange our composition to give off individuals same emotions? ”

NIKON D7000 + 24mm f/1. 4 @ 24mm, ISO 360, 1/50, f/1. 4


Your composition also determines the path of the viewer’s eye through the image. Even though you can’t know the exact path a viewer’s attention is going to take, you can nudge things one way or another.

Do you want your viewer to pay more attention to the mountains in the background of an image? Look for lines in the foreground or sky that point toward them. Or, wait till the light at sunset a shine on the mountain peaks with brilliant color. Do that which you can to make the mountains a destination for your viewer’s attention.

I always still find it interesting how our eyes flow through a photo unconsciously. For instance, we intuitively adhere to along the path of outlines in an image, especially directly lines. Even more than that, we spend substantial time looking at subjects and leaping from each important subject matter in the photo to the next. (An “important subject in the photo” would be something like a person’s face or an area of high sharpness and contrast. )

I’m not simply inventing these ideas out of thin air. Take a look at this detailed study that tracked how people’s eyes flowed via different works of classic art, and even compared how their eyes flowed right after rearranging one or two elements. For the time to click on that research, you’ll see something that I actually find especially interesting: Even a small rearrangement almost always acquired cascading effects. For example , cropping out the dark, left-hand edge of a Rembrandt painting led people to spend more time taking a look at a wall in the background on the opposite side of the painting.

This is actually the power of composition. By changing the arrangement of some elements here and there, you change the photo’s entire framework – and therefore how a viewer’s eye flows through the picture.

Black and White Street Photo
NIKON D7000 + 17-55mm f/2. almost 8 @ 55mm, ISO 640, 1/10, f/2. 8


Photographers tend to forget that they have  tremendous control over the size and keeping of the different objects in an image. And no, I’m not speaking about moving around your subject within Photoshop after the fact. I’m not even talking about moving elements around in a studio to have full control over your own photo.

Instead, any time you’re taking pictures, simply changing your camera position and  focal length   can have large effects on the composition you obtain. Do you want a tree that’s bigger than a mountain? Performed. Just walk up close and use a wide angle lens.

Wide angle lens for landscape photography
NIKON D800E + 20mm f/1. 8 @ 20mm, ISO hundred, 1/4, f/16. 0
Wide angle, standing up close.

Would you like an imposing mountain and a smaller tree? That’s just as easy. Stand back and use a telephoto.

Telephoto lens for landscape photography
NIKON D800E + 70-200mm f/4 @ 70mm, ISO hundred, 0. 6 seconds, f/16. 0
Telephoto, standing farther back. (This is the same tree. )

So often, I realize photographers set up their tripod at eye level and never move it at all. They will do 100% of their composition by loosening the ballhead on the tripod, pointing the camera around, and then locking the ballhead when they are satisfied.

We won’t say this method will be doomed to give you bad photos, but it’s missing out on a  huge part of composition! If your tripod stays in the same place, you won’t be able to change the relative sizes or essential positions of the subjects you’re capturing. That’s a lot of innovative tools down the drain.

So , as you read through the associated with this guide, I recommend reminding your self of something from time to time: You might have extraordinary control over a photo’s composition… and, therefore , a photo’s emotions. Use

Next Measures

Now that you’ve got an idea of what structure is and why it’s so powerful, it’s time to look at the specific tools available to help compose better photos. So , click below to look to  Chapter three or more: Elements of Composition .

(Note: I’m actively writing and improving this guide. So far, chapters 1 and 2 are fully updated. )

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