5 Elements of Composition in Photography - Digital Photography School

5 Elements of Composition in Photography

Good Composition is a key element of good photographs yet is something that is hard to define.

Instead of looking at composition as a set of ‘rules’ to follow – I view it as a set of ingredients that can be taken out of the pantry at any point and used to make a great ‘meal’ (photograph). Alternatively I’ve often described it as a set of ‘tools’ that can be taken out of one’s compositional tool belt at any given time in the construction of a great image.

The key is to remember that in the same way as a chef rarely uses all the ingredients at their disposal in any dish – that a photographer rarely uses all of the ingredients of composition in the making of an image.

Today I’d like to look at five of the ingredients (or tools, or elements) of composition that I draw on in my photography. They’re not ‘rules’ – just things that I consider when setting up a shot.

Pattern

Image by actionlovr

There are patterns all around us if we only learn to see them. Emphasizing and highlighting these patterns can lead to striking shots – as can high lighting when patterns are broken.

Read more on using repetition and patterns in photography.

Symmetry

Image by straightfinder

Depending upon the scene – symmetry can be something to go for – or to avoid completely.

A symmetrical shot with strong composition and a good point of interest can lead to a striking image – but without the strong point of interest it can be a little predictable. I prefer to experiment with both in the one shoot to see which works best.

Read more on symmetry in photography.

Texture

Image by Grant McDonald

Images a two dimensional thing yet with the clever use of ‘texture’ they can come alive and become almost three dimensional.

Texture particularly comes into play when light hits objects at interesting angles.

Read more on using light to create texture in your photography.

Depth of Field

Image by orangeacid

The depth of field that you select when taking an image will drastically impact the composition of an image.

It can isolate a subject from its background and foreground (when using a shallow depth of field) or it can put the same subject in context by revealing it’s surrounds with a larger depth of field.

Read more on getting shallow depth of field and also this video tutorial on depth of field.

Lines

Image by stevacek

Lines can be powerful elements in an image.

They have the power to draw the eye to key focal points in a shot and to impact the ‘feel’ of an image greatly.

Diagonal, Horizontal, Vertical and Converging lines all impact images differently and should be spotted while framing a shot and then utilized to strengthen it.

These are just some of the elements of composition that I consider in my photography. They reflect my own style and personality but there are plenty more.

Update: Check out our new post – 5 More Elements of Composition in Photography for more elements to consider when composing an image.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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  • Calin

    Thank you Darren! This is a very good refresher!
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    http://www.bycalin.com

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  • chris peet

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    so am i … btw *horny

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  • TKTK

    I enjoy reading the photo tips you give me every week. Yes I have about 25 photos of the day on ABC NBC CBS FOX AND local news channels here But I learn some thing new all the time and thanks for the chance to learn more. TK

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  • anna

    hi i have a question, could a wedding picture with the bride and grome work as a composition picture?

  • camellia

    composition depends a lotttt on where your subject is positioned

Some older comments

  • Amde Sidik

    July 5, 2013 01:53 pm

    Held camera for long, didn't bother to learn (partly no time), now time is with me. I read, study vigorously, quickly in case light shuts without warning…yes, Darren's materials help.TQ

  • Rose

    July 5, 2013 09:49 am

    I'm a beginner wanna be pro i have a Canon600D. I have taken some great shots (I think anyway) but I can't get the hang of the lens. I have 2 18-55 and 55-200 I think. I hate carrying both with me which is the best one to use. Love these tips. Who is Annie

  • Kirtu Riba

    June 15, 2013 10:32 pm

    Darren's tips on the vast field of photography are very interesting and valuable. . Looking forward to more posts .

  • Pronab kumar dutt

    April 2, 2013 06:03 pm

    I like the five rules

  • Greyson

    March 1, 2013 02:01 pm

    When was this article posted?

  • Justin Sandercoe

    February 15, 2013 08:03 am

    I like the five elements of comp. I might get a camera real soon, too. A cool tatt would make a nice picture for any of the elements.

  • Terry

    November 8, 2012 02:05 am

    I really liked the 5 rules.
    But I was curious about why nothing was said about
    proportions of composition. Where should the focus be?
    Center, left third, or right third?

  • jen

    September 29, 2012 07:20 am

    I love this article and the links included in it. I learned a lot from it. Thanks so much, and will continue on to part 2!

  • maggie roberts

    August 1, 2012 10:19 am

    Thanks Darren Rowse, Fairly new to Dig. Phot. and found this helpful.

  • F.Zaman

    May 30, 2012 01:45 pm

    Darren,thank you very much.It's so simple but convincing advice that everyone must 'swallow' these in full.

  • seesan

    May 3, 2012 12:26 am

    Great post for beginers and some veterans alike. This post itself should be considered to keep in one's tool belt to refer back as needed.

  • Nancy

    April 21, 2012 07:02 am

    Have you written a book we could purchase, with all these articles in it? I like to sit and study my photography textbooks. Your articles inspire me and I like the links so can flit here and there. Every one of your examples is a great teaching tool.

  • Vic Manansala

    March 23, 2012 11:44 am

    Daren thank you very much for sharing your talent, it gives me idea on how to improve my composition

  • Norman

    February 27, 2012 12:17 pm

    It's a great information for me. I always looking at anything could share about composition on Photography, I am a beginner Photographer and I always wanted to see my shots differently, the details where I wanted to capture and the correct composition of my subject. thank you Mr. Darren for sharing your talent with us.

  • Sheila Brown

    December 27, 2011 07:12 am

    Thank you Darren! I really like articles that are to the point and not long and drawn out. Pictures really help people understand what you are trying to say. You did an excellent job!

  • saibal

    December 17, 2011 07:45 am

    i appreciate ur point.... it will be very helpful for my study material.. color should be there i think. neways thanks

  • Brianna

    October 27, 2011 03:41 am

    you copied my teacher.... cool!

  • Terry

    August 9, 2011 01:26 pm

    Thanks for the information. I've not thought of texture before when thinking of composition. I will gave to play with that idea now and see what it yields. Feel free to check out my composition information at www.great-photography-tips.com/Photography-Tips-Composition.html.

  • Erin McLeod

    July 12, 2011 06:56 am

    I loved this post, the first time it was sent to me. Anything new to add?

  • Paul Brown

    June 21, 2011 04:50 am

    Sometimes, Annie, you just have to say what is on your mind!
    Composition is exegesis. If one thinks of a book as the photograher's medium one "interprets the meaning" of a portion of the book with ones creative eye. Each person using this site will experience the moment differently and that my friends is what makes photography so very exciting. If any of you get National Geographic, take a look at 5-11 issue as it has Abelardo Morell's facinating experiments with the "Camera Obscura." Talking about composition!!

  • Tina

    March 15, 2011 09:13 pm

    very nice thanks , understand and master is very hard , I read and see all but master a photo is very hard , how anyone looks at it , looks at defferent thing then the other so what is right or not right !!!

  • John Kim

    February 24, 2011 04:28 am

    Easy to understand but hard to master

  • Chase Guttman

    January 24, 2011 10:43 am

    Darren, I love your posts as usual. You've always done a great job thoroughly explaining things in an informative way. On the other hand, I think you missed some important elements of composition: backdrop, viewpoints, filling the frame, or even keeping it simple for instance. I did a blog post on this matter a few weeks ago: http://bit.ly/hBOnyi But I also feel that people need to know that sticking to your instincts may be the best rule, because not all the time do these ideas apply.

  • Siddhanth Sheorey

    January 17, 2011 05:31 am

    Hey great stuff, really helpful. I am doing a project on fine art photography, are the elements the same, or is there a difference?
    Do you have any information I could look at?

    Thanks

  • Edward Weston

    December 10, 2010 06:51 am

    Consulting the rules and laws of composition when taking a photograph is like consulting the laws of gravity when going for a walk.

    Quality? What is a quality photograph? Following all the rules of composition will produce a quality photograph. Quality as defined by whom?

    Is the quality contained in the photograph presented or does the viewer determine the quality of a photograph?

    If I follow the rules of composition, will I come closer to a qualtiy photograph to present? Or can quality be captured in other ways? A quality photograph presents it's story well no matter the rules followed?

  • Cristen

    December 9, 2010 04:10 pm

    I've had my Canoon EOS 500D for over a year now and yet I still have to explore all it's possibilities. I have made a few good shots just by sheer luck and intuition. But finding DPS and reading all the helpful tips and tutorials now makes me feel like I want to carry my gear everyday and take shots of just about anything.
    I posted a number of pictures here and I am learning gradually from all the comments I am getting. I would have loved to critique other people's work also but in my mind, my skill and knowledge won't allow me to make a significant input. Will work on it.
    Thank you, Mr. Darren Rowse.

  • pGrafik

    November 10, 2010 02:55 am

    seriously i luv this topic so much..i wanna become a profesional photographer...hey there!..support me ok!

  • HAMISU ABUBAKAR

    November 1, 2010 08:31 am

    I want to thank Mr Darren for the tutorials to some of us that have little or no time to be in the classroom,we are always following with keen interest.

  • Bridget Casas

    October 1, 2010 04:33 am

    I liked this post. It has inspired me to go out with my camera and look for all of these elements! Thank you.

  • Melinda B.

    September 1, 2010 05:02 am

    Thanks for posting!

  • John R.Sauers

    August 26, 2010 02:07 pm

    I thought you did a fantastic description of composition. Thanks

  • Paul Collins

    August 26, 2010 01:49 am

    I love these specials, down to the nitty gritty, and keep our own styles, better than any class I've attended, where they try to drum it out of you,Top stuff Darren, you have kept my interested where others can't.
    Paul

  • lorna manila

    August 23, 2010 12:47 pm

    thank you for sharing your expertise. i am learning a lot from your website

  • lorna manila

    August 23, 2010 12:28 pm

    thanks for sharing your expertise. i've learned a lot from your DPS.

  • Annie

    June 17, 2010 02:58 pm

    this website is utter shit, all your information is not sourced correctly. you stupid fat cunt. get your shit together or ill fuck your ass in the court of judge judy. you got it?

    Love Annie <3

  • samer

    May 22, 2010 05:24 pm

    Thank you very much
    It's some thing I like to read...
    clear, deep, simple and brief
    I enjoy too much

  • margaretha toerien

    May 21, 2010 05:28 pm

    Now this is why I maintain DPS is essential reading for anyone whose passion is photography.

  • Liza Candog

    May 21, 2010 10:27 am

    Dear Darren,
    I like your website, the articles and the tips on Photography. when I was still in my country Philippines
    I have a Canon camera with lens but its not digital.
    I kept on using it as I was taking photos of flowers and animals.

    With my Samsung camera(digital) 6pixels, I took pictures and views but am not satisfied
    with what I am doing. In this site I find it a little helpful to me as I was scanning and reading
    tips. I am not a professional photographer but I want my work to be excellent.
    I am a beginner photographer and I want to know more about good shots and angles taken from
    a beginner perspective.
    Really this site is interesting and helpful.
    Thank you very much.

    Liza

  • Rajagopalan

    May 21, 2010 06:36 am

    Thanks for the article. It was really nice to learn these.

    I also wanted some explaination of the concepts with respect to the example pictures shown. Like if you talk about symmetry how this is being captured in the given example. This will be really useful to new people like me to understand.

  • Jim Chisholm

    May 21, 2010 06:12 am

    Great tips! I would add contrast to the mix. Looking for high contrast in a scene, particularly for black and white, can create captivating images. Marc Koegel does it very well (www.silverlandscapes.com).

  • @amandasamford

    May 21, 2010 02:25 am

    I agree with one of the previous posts. I've been getting DPS emails for a while, and this link is the first that I'll be bookmarking. Great job, and I love the photo examples!

  • Karen Stuebing

    May 18, 2010 06:35 pm

    Darren, I always like your articles. I wish you'd write more.

    Everybody learns the rule of thirds when they begin photography. Which is an important rule but soon becomes second nature.

    This article shows there is much more to play with beyond that basic. Great photos.

    I don't believe photographers are born with an eye..well, maybe some are..but learn it. How do you learn? You try different things and see what works.

    These are really some good ideas to play with. Especially when you hit a block or are photographing the same thing over and over.

  • Leslie

    May 18, 2010 07:35 am

    Thanks for the pointers. I am self taught but a student of art for years. many similarities but obviously different things at your disposal

  • darren_c

    May 18, 2010 02:18 am

    Great points. Everytime I have some creative blocks and don't seem to be able to "see" what I want, I step back to basics. I try to focus on simple composition; like the point metioned above. Doing this can help break the block.

    DC

  • Dan Ketcham

    May 17, 2010 11:29 pm

    Very Nice!
    Those are some great pics to accompany!

    Thank You

  • Horse Gifts

    May 17, 2010 09:04 pm

    I would also add perspective as another item to consider in photography composition. Can really help define a photo.

  • Mei Teng

    May 17, 2010 10:55 am

    Good reminder of the elements of composition. I like the photo illustration for Pattern.

  • Odyn

    May 17, 2010 07:44 am

    Colors. You forgot the colors.

  • Jo

    May 17, 2010 02:19 am

    best article in awhile, composition is the key to any strong image.

  • angad

    May 17, 2010 01:53 am

    this is brilliant!

    lines and texture combined - http://www.flickr.com/photos/singhangad/4603735733/

    you shd have talked about frames as well - http://www.flickr.com/photos/singhangad/4601862787/in/set-72157624070840854/

    leading lines - http://www.flickr.com/photos/singhangad/4581021034/

    also talk about shooting different angles..from the ground etc

  • TheMainIngredient

    May 17, 2010 01:41 am

    Great, short article, that I would recommend every beginner in photography. I'm a fan of those articles which make their points in one sentence, and show examples.

  • Skotniczny

    May 17, 2010 12:36 am

    Great post! Something for us all to keep in mind when were photographing a subject,

    I would add the angle you shoot from. simply getting a different perspective of a subject that people don't often see can make a boring shot into something outstanding. The pasterns image is a good example.

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