The Art of Composition
by Shahinur Islam
Composition in art bears enormous significance. Without proper arrangement of elements, a photograph or artistic piece becomes dull and unattractive despite its harmonious colour combination. First of all, let’s learn what composition is. It means arranging the elements of a scene in your camera’s viewfinder so that they form something visually appealing to look at, and lead viewers’ eyes to a journey around the frame from the immediate foreground to the distant background.
Of course, every time you are clicking on your camera, you are composing a picture. But the problem is, many photographers do not want to spend enough time thinking about that composition before depressing the shutter button.
Many keep their main subject too far way in empty space, or frame some annoying distractions with no conspicuous entry point, so the viewers get easily distracted and move around aimlessly. These photographs also lack depth of focus and depth of field, so they look flat and dull.
Choosing your viewpoint is very important. Choose what you like to capture of the scene you want to capture on film. Like the ‘rule of third’, there are some compositional ‘rules’ and devices that can help you take great and interesting pictures. In course of time you will grow a natural sense of composition will become. Look at the following 7 rules of composition:
Add interest in the foreground
Adding something such as walls, rivers, rocks, trees, etc. to the foreground creates a sense of depth and scale, and feels tight, especially in the landscape photographs. This also works as an entry point leading to the far corner of the photos.
To highlight the foreground interest, you can use Wide-angle lenses, which make even small objects dominate the entire photograph, and create powerful compositions with the foreground looming large. This kind of lenses also provides huge depth of field. Just stop down your aperture at f/16 or f/22; everything will look sharp from a metre in front of the camera to infinity.
Use the rule-of-thirds
There is a golden rule of composition. That is called ‘the rule of thirds. Use it to create a visually appealing photo.
But what is this? Well, while the camera is on your hand and you are looking through the viewfinder, divide your viewfinder into an imaginary grid as two horizontal and two vertical lines. Now you will find four intersecting points, which are the rule of thirds points.
Place your subject on or near any of the four intersection points created by those imaginary lines.
The rule of thirds can also be used to help you position the horizon. It’s tempting to stick it across the centre of the frame, but unless you’re shooting a symmetrical scene, such as reflections in a lake, the result tends to look very static and lifeless.
A much better approach is to place the horizon one third from the top or the bottom of the frame, so you’re emphasizing either the sky or ground. To help you achieve this, divide the viewfinder into thirds using two imaginary horizontal lines, then compose the scene before you so the horizon falls on one of them.
You should never force a picture to comply with the rule-of-thirds, but when used with care it can work well and after a while you will find yourself naturally dividing the scene into thirds to aid the position of important elements
Make the most of lines
Lines add depth and dynamism to a photo and create a strong sense of direction. They also take the eye through the scene, so it takes in everything along the way.
If you look around, you’ll find lines appearing everywhere: roads, rivers, grilles, avenues of trees, electricity poles, railway tracks, writings, etc. slicing through the countryside, shadows cast by the evening sun and so on. All of these can be used to better the composition of your pictures.
Horizontal lines split the scene in layers and have a restful effect by echoing the horizon. The eye normally travels from left to right, and upwards through the scene.
Vertical lines are dynamic and give a picture tension and a strong sense of vertical movement. Just think of the towering trees reaching for the sky, or electric poles standing on the ground.
Diagonal lines are more dynamic since they stand in strong contrast with horizontal and vertical elements and lead your eye through the whole scene. By suggesting perspective they also add depth. Lines moving from bottom left to top right work the best because that’s natural way for the eye to move.
Converging lines created by roads, crop rows, avenues of trees and railway lines are ideal for adding a strong sense of depth, scale and perspective because of the way they converge to the horizon and seem to move closer together with distance, and ultimately forms a configuration or vanishing point. To make the most of this effect, look straight down the lines and use a wide-angle lens to overdo perspective. Incorporate the point where the lines meet together – the ‘vanishing point’ – to make the composition satisfying.
Finally, no matter if lines aren’t actually straight to work in a composition. The beautiful curves of a tortuous river will take the eye through a scene just successfully.
Use your feet
In the landscape, remember to be close enough to the scene. Don’t be afraid of getting close to your subject, no matter what it is.
When you’re going to take a landscape photograph, stop for a second, take a last look at the composition and think again if it can be improved by walking close into the scene, closer to foreground interest or finding something more appropriate to fill the foreground. If you can make it, you’ll be surprised to see the differences later.
It’s also good to have a general look around your subject. That landscape might look nice to you from the lay-by at the side of the road – and it’s known that some of the most splendid viewpoints are close to roads – but what about if you strolled around the corner, or up the hill behind you? At this, you’ll hardly have the best picture from the first viewpoint, but unless you try to explore your subject from different angles you’ll never find the alternatives.
So, make a slight change of viewpoint to completely transform the composition. Walking a few meters in any direction can give you a clearer view, relieve of annoying distractions, or add important foreground interest.
You should also consider the height. Most of the photographers take pictures with the camera at eye level, but by kneeling down or standing on a wall you’ll have an entirely different view of the same scene. It will give an unusual, dramatic view. You can even carry a step ladder to serve this purpose better so you can get a slightly raised position and see most part of the scene.
Using your feet is really important part of composing a photo, so always try to use it.
Choose the right format
Although it’s natural to shoot landscapes with the camera held horizontally in the ‘landscape’ format, turning the camera on its side can totally transform the composition.
Upright pictures are far more energetic because the eye has further to travel from bottom to top. You can also emphasize vertical lines and height to add tension and excitement, or capture rivers and roads snaking away into the distance The horizontal format is much more restful to look at because it suggests repose, and echoes the horizon itself – that’s why it tends to be preferred by landscape photographers.
Use the most of frames
Tighten up the overall composition. Get rid of disturbing elements details and lead attention towards your main subject.
You can use everything as frames, such as archways, doors, grilles, windows, a hole in a wall, a nice gap in dense leaves or between trees, the overhanging twigs of a tree, etc.
To serve this purpose, a wide-angle lens works best. It allows you to put the frame without obscuring the scene beyond. You need to set your lens to a small aperture such as f/11 or f/16 so that the frame comes out sharp. You can also blur it by setting a wide aperture and focusing on your main subject.
Also don’t overexpose the main subject by casting a shadow on the frame. To avoid this, just take a meter reading. And in bright sunlight environment, the frame will appear as a silhouette.
Break the rules
All the while you’ve gone through a number of rules and guidelines to improve the composition of your pictures. However, they’re guides.
Once you learn how those rules work, you can send them to your subconscious mind and listen to your instincts, because you can get a far better picture by deliberately breaking the rules. For example, placing the horizon across the middle of the picture, or your focal point in the centre. But keep in mind whatever you do, you must have a reason.