It is vital to understand the basic rules of photographic composition for travel photography or any other type of photography. They are used all the time in my profession as a resort photographer. When just learning, having a grasp of these rules will help you to compose photographs that are more visually appealing, hold attention and evoke emotion in the viewer. They will undoubtedly make your photos stand out from the spur of the moment ‘snap-shots’ that many of us are guilty of capturing.
As you learn these rules of composition and start to understand more how they will affect the quality of your final shot, you can then consider having fun with breaking these rules! Photography is, after all, an art-form where rules are often not relevant. But to break the rules of composition, it is best to understand them first, implement them, and then assess when they apply to your shot. Indeed, as a beginner, understanding these nine rules will help you create compelling images that capture what you see through your lens perfectly.
Composition refers to the way that the many different elements in a scene are arranged within the frame. None of these rules are ‘hard and fast’ but rather to be used as guidelines that will genuinely help you to create appealing and compelling compositions.
1. Filling the frame
Don’t be afraid to get close to your subjects and to fill the frame. By getting close to your main subject, you avoid the issue of your focus being lost in busy backgrounds or surroundings that threaten to steal attention. By cropping in tightly, you eliminate background noise and ensure that the viewer’s eye falls where it should.
It is essential to be aware of natural frames that are already present in your scene. Natural frames can range from man-made items such as doorways, window-frames, and bridges to more organic frames such as tree branches and rocks or any other structures that create some sort of framework around your subject. Frames can serve to draw the attention to the subject, they can create context, hide unwanted items or give a depth of field.
Symmetry can be pleasing to the eye and be used to guide the eye to an integral point of the shot. Symmetry can lead to very eye-catching compositions and lend a certain elegance to your images. Symmetry refers to a line that splits an object in half, and if both sides of the object are similar, then we see that as being symmetrical. When it comes to symmetry in photography, there are two main types of symmetry being vertical and horizontal. Understanding these two symmetrical lines when it comes to photographic composition can add unexpected impact to your photography.
4. Leading Lines
Our eyes are automatically drawn to lines in images, so it is essential to think about how, where and why you could use lines in your pictures. For example, a road that begins at one end of the shot and winds its way through the scene will draw the viewer’s eye through the image. A fence line leading to the subject will reinforce the main area of focus. Use lines to lead the viewer to where you want them to look.
5. Rule of thirds
One of the most basic rules of composition is the rules of thirds. Basically, it involves dividing your scene with two horizontal lines and two vertical lines to create nine squares. Where these lines meet is an ideal guideline as to where to put your main points of interest. You will note that none of these intersection points is located in the center of the frame, so by using the rule of thirds, you are already composing photos differently to what most of us are instinctively inclined to do.
6. Diagonal Lines
Diagonal lines create great movement and generally work well to draw the eye of the viewer through the photograph. Diagonal lines are also great at creating areas of interest at points of intersection with other lines. They are also quite useful in suggesting different perspectives.
7. Figure to Ground
‘Figure to Ground’ in photography is all about finding a contrast between your subject and its background. It is usually about having the main subject in contrast such as light on dark or dark on light. Find a contrast between your subject and the background. The most obvious example of ‘figure to the ground’ in photography is the silhouette.
8. Centre dominant eye
This is a great rule to follow when photographing people. By placing the dominant eye in the center of your photo, the image will have an added allure as this placement will make it appear that the subject’s eyes are following the viewer.
9. Patterns and repetition
There is something so pleasing about patterns, and they can be aesthetically appealing. They also offer the photographer the opportunity to include an element of the unexpected by breaking or interrupting a pattern.
I know that when I first started out as a luxury resort photographer, these rules of composition were vital when beginning to try to compose my shots. My experience has taught me when these rules needed to be applied and when the actual act of breaking them would help with my composition. As artists, we know that rules are meant to be broken. Most importantly, as photographers, you need to allow your personal style to flourish, and to develop your own aesthetics and vision. By working with the rules of composition, you will easily enable these things to improve.