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Inspiration

One Secret to Great Photography Compositions

By Christopher Lin on October 15th 2018

If you look for tutorials on photography composition, you’ll find hundreds of articles that teach concepts like the rule of thirds, leading lines, negative space, and dozens of other “rules” or techniques.  These basic concepts are critical to understanding the fundamentals of photography.

But how do you take your photography beyond the basics, become more creative, and produce imagery that stands out?

One theory is actually quite simple: combine compositional techniques.  In other words, find multiple “rules” or techniques in a single scene and utilize them to create imagery that stands out.   Let’s  explain with a few examples:

Perfect Symmetry + Perfect Symmetry + Triangles

In the image below, from our Panoramic Stitching Workshop, you’ll notice the following:

  1. Symmetry in the foreground – The couple is at the apex of the rocks, creating symmetry in the foreground.
  2. Symmetry in the background – The background mountain creates another instance of symmetry in the scene.
  3. Triangles in the composition – The mountain in the background also creates a clean, near-perfect triangle.

Each of these elements adds a layer of interest and complexity to the photograph, taking it beyond a basic image.

Symmetry + Frames

In the image below, Shivani, our writer and photographer, captured this self portrait in Bali with the following elements:

  1. Perfect Frame – The two architectural elements of the temple create a perfect frame.  From Photography 101, we know that utilizing natural frames in a scene draws attention to the subject and creates interest in the scene.
  2. Symmetry – But to go a step further, If you look in the background, you’ll notice the perfect symmetry of the mountain as well, adding another compositional element to the scene.

The combination of these two compositional techniques makes this image stand out.

Frames + Rule of Odds + Symmetry

In the image below by our sister company, Line and Roots Photography, notice the following:

  1. The Rule of Odds – The three arches create a “rule of odds” composition.
  2. Framing – The photographer used the compositional technique of framing by placing the subject within one of the arches.
  3. Symmetry – To add to the interest, the photographer then found perfect symmetry in the scene.
  4. Balance – He also balanced out the wardrobe on the mother-to-be with symmetrical tosses of the dress on each side.

The four, or some could even argue more, compositional elements at play in this photograph make it an eye-catching one.

Leading Lines + Symmetry (balance)

In the image, by our writer Ryan Longnecker, you’ll notice the following:

  1. Leading Lines – The clouds create lines that lead right into the subject.
  2. Balance/Symmetry – The combination with the balance/symmetry created from the reflection makes this image simply incredible.

Leading Lines + Perfect Frame

Our SLR Lounge writer and Lin and Jirsa Photographer, Matthew Saville, spent months planning for this photo.  You’ll notice the following:

  1. Framing – The Milky Way perfectly frames Half Dome at Yosemite National Park.
  2. Leading Lines – You’ll also notice how the milky way creates leading lines that draw the viewer’s attention from the corner of the frame into the photograph.  Learn more how to get these types of shots in his workshop, Photographing the Milky Way.

Symmetry + Symmetry + Negative Space + Framing

In the image below, also from our Panoramic Stitching Workshop, notice the following:

  1. Negative Space – The wide angle view leaves a lot of clean, monochromatic negative space.
  2. Symmetry in the Background – The mountains create left and right symmetry.
  3. Symmetry in the reflection – The reflection on the water creates another instance of symmetry.
  4. Framing – The mountains frame the couple.

two people stand, center frame, surrounded by water and mountains in a stitched panorama

Bonus: Click below for the video tutorial on the image above.

Leading Lines + Low Angles + Unique Viewpoint + Color Theory

In another image from Ryan Longnecker, Ryan pointed the camera up toward a tree canopy that fills the frame and takes advantage of a number of the following compositional elements:

  1. Leading Lines – The tree trunks provide leading lines that draw the eye to the center of the image where the lines converge.
  2. Low Angles – Shooting from a low angle makes the subjects – in this case, trees – appear taller; it almost looks like they never stop extending into the sky.
  3. Unique Viewpoint – This unique viewpoint captures the trees in a way that we’re not used to seeing. Because of that, the image also captures our attention and increases the amount of time we’ll likely spend viewing the image.
  4. Color Theory – The cool blue sky and the warm yellow trees combine to create a pleasant contrast of primary colors.

Negative Space + Unique Viewpoint  + Color Theory

In this aerial image of the shoreline, again by Shivani Reddy, you’ll notice the following compositional elements:

  1. Negative Space – Every photo features a contrast of positive and negative space. Sometimes, an abundance of negative space can work well to draw attention to the subjects. In contrast to the vast ocean, we can’t help but notice the subjects walking alongside their shadows on the small strand of beach.
  2. Unique Viewpoint – There’s no denying that the bird’s eye view made possible by drones (or planes and helicopters if you can afford to rent them) is eye-catching. This overhead perspective is one we rarely get to experience.
  3. Color Theory – In this image, the ocean provides a natural analogous color scheme of green, blue-green, and blue. This color harmony creates a pleasant sense of balance in the image.

View this post on Instagram

let’s take a dip

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Negative Space + Leading Lines

In this golden hour engagement image, you’ll notice the following compositional elements:

  1. Negative Space – Although the subjects in this image occupy very little real estate, they represent the focal point in an image otherwise dominated by negative space.
  2. Leading Lines – The couple’s long shadows create leading lines that pull the viewer’s eye right back to them. The couple has also been positioned directly in front of the sun, placing them in the brightest part of the image.

key takeaway

We could go on and on with a multitude of examples, but I’m sure by now you get the point.  So how do we start seeing and utilizing multiple compositional elements in our photographs?

Like all creativity, it takes education and experience.  In a previous article, we discussed 6 Creative Ways To Use Long Exposures In Your Photography. In it, we mentioned our belief that creativity is a muscle that can be trained with education and practice.

So the key is to simply get behind the camera, look for these elements, make mistakes, have those “Oh man, I wish I did this” moments, and continue improving until all of these things become instinctual.

For those who are interested, I’ve listed a few more examples below.

More Examples

Frames + Depth (Shoot Throughs)

Balance + Leading Lines

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Your love is all I need to feel complete. 💙 #gargpartyof2  Venue: @loewshotels Planner: @frevents Makeup/Hair: @hennadilse Florist: @organicflora DJ: @riamu_entertainment Rentals: @conceptseventdesign Attire: @sabyasachiofficial Catering: @monsoongroup Cake: @cinderellacakes . . . #weddinginspo #weddingday #shesaidyes #ido #videography #weddinghighlight #weddingphotographer #luxuryweddings #californiaweddings #weddinggoals #theknot #smpweddings #buzzfeedweddings #gettingmarried  #bridalideas #bridalcouture #bride #weddingstyle #weddingbuzz #weddingchicks #southasianweddings #weddingsutra #southasianbride #sandeigoweddings #coronadoisland #californiasunsets #nightshot #nightimephotography

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Frames + Negative Space

Reflections (Symmetry) + Leading Lines

Co-Founder of SLR Lounge and Photographer with Lin and Jirsa Photography, I’m based in Southern California but you can find me traveling the world. Click here to connect on Google +

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Pye Jirsa

    I love this article and all of the analysis within each image. Fantastic job Chris. 

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