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Time Out With Tanya

Five More Rules to Rock Your Photography Composition

By Tanya Goodall Smith on April 14th 2015

Welcome to Time Out with Tanya, where I’ve put my fast paced graphic design career on hold in favor of adventures in motherhood. I’m capturing every moment on camera, and you can come along if you’d like. Sign up for my weekly email here, so you’ll never miss a Time Out.

Composition is one of the most powerful tools you can use to make sure you’re communicating the concept, emotion and feel you want in an image. Knowing and mastering certain “rules” of composition can help you create balance, harmony and a clear focal point in your imagery. Conversely, knowing how to break these rules thoughtfully, when you want your image to be full of tension, for example, is another reason it’s a good idea to study them.

There are many, many ways to create a pleasing composition. Last week I covered five fundamental compositional theories (read the article here: FIVE FUNDAMENTAL COMPOSITIONAL THEORIES YOU SHOULD MASTER TODAY). Here are five more rules to rock your photography composition.

1. Asymmetry

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The opposite of symmetry, asymmetry is an interesting way to bring balance to a composition without having everything be the same on both sides. How is it possible to achieve balance in an image with asymmetry? I always try to keep in mind the concept of visual weight. While symmetry achieves balance through uniformity, asymmetrical balance is achieved with different elements that have equal visual weight. Visual weight in photographs is influenced by a variety of factors. I’ll share a few in an upcoming article. Stay tuned!

Framing

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Framing is one of my favorite compositional “tricks” I use to add interest to my images and to make it obvious to my viewer what I want them to see. You can use anything to frame your subject. In the example above, I held two champagne glasses up in front of my lens to make a frame around the bride.

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In this example, I’m using the branches in the foreground to frame the couple. This gives the viewer a sense of intimacy as if they are secretly observing the scene.

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I often use mirrors, doorways or windows to frame my subjects. Architectural elements make great frames!

Contrast

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This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a concept I see others struggle with when they first start out as photographers. If you really want to make your subject stand out, placing them in the scene in an area of contrasting value or color is one of best ways to achieve this. In this example, I simply placed the couple against a dark background and made sure lots of light was falling on them, so the white dress really pops.

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Sometimes you might need to add some contrast with artificial light. Learning to use a flash can really bump your photography up to the next level. To create this image, I simple used a Canon Speedlite on my Canon 5D Mark III without a modifier or anything. I just wanted a little light on her face to add some drama and contrast against the darkness of the storm rolling in. If you want to learn how to master on-camera flash, check out our new Lighting 101 Workshop DVD.

Parallel Lines

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I learned about the power of parallel lines, both horizontal and vertical, from Roberto Valenzuela’s book Picture Perfect Practice (read my review of the book by clicking here). There are parallel lines everywhere you look in a scene. They are created by walls, buildings, trees, the horizon, etc. By lining them up with the edge of the viewfinder frame, you’ll be creating a nice sense of harmony and balance in your image, without causing a distraction from your subject.

If you tilt the frame though, creating diagonal lines, the opposite happens. Imbalance and a sense of falling off the page can happen when diagonal lines are present in your image. Diagonal lines can also add energy and dynamics to a photo if used the right way. Stay tuned for more on that next week (wink, wink).

Repetition

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Repetition is something I’m always looking to add to my images. Our eyes look for patterns, which help us make sense of chaos. Repeating patterns are very pleasing to the eye. One of the best places to find repetition is in architecture, so use them to your advantage. Windows, pillars, doors, etc.

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Repetitive elements don’t have to be symmetrical. Here’s a variation on the first image above, still utilizing the repeating windows but slightly off center. It still works!

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Odd numbers of repeating elements are generally thought to be the most pleasing, but I break this rule all the time. Two, four or six repeating elements can work, too.

For more tips on creating the perfect photograph, I highly recommend the SLR Lounge Photography 101 Workshop DVD. It’s the best beginning to intermediate photography workshop video I’ve seen yet.

Other articles you might be interested in:

FIVE FUNDAMENTAL COMPOSITIONAL THEORIES YOU SHOULD MASTER TODAY

5 SURPRISING LESSONS I LEARNED FROM PHOTOGRAPHY 101

TANYA’S TOP 10 MISTAKES TO AVOID AS A NEW PHOTOGRAPHER, PART 1

TANYA’S TOP 10 MISTAKES TO AVOID AS A NEW PHOTOGRAPHER, PART 2

CREDITS: Photographs by Tanya Smith are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. David Hill

    Great article. Not too long, helpful and full of useful information! Thanks for sharing. Dave

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  2. Sohan Dewan

    This is absolutely an informative article. Uses of frame, put contrast that all are really very effective effect for good output of any photograph.

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  3. Ed Rhodes

    thanks for sharing

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  4. desmond chislom

    GREAT INFO

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