6 Advanced Composition Techniques to Improve Your Photos

6 Advanced Composition Techniques to Improve Your Photos

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When you think of composition in photography, what is the first idea that pops into your head? Let me guess – the rule of thirds?

Likely that was true for many of you who reading this, why do you think that is? The rule of thirds is probably the most widely known, and well used compositional tool in photography. Most often, it is the first composition tool we are taught (it was for me anyway). Once we know it, and use it, we don’t really think about it, or about any other compositional techniques.

There are other methods though, using visual design techniques that talk about texture and colour, amongst others. Many photographers simply default to the rule of thirds and take the shot, without trying other compositions. These other techniques can make a difference in your images. This article is about six techniques you can use to improve your compositions, and your photos Some of these would be known as advanced techniques, but once you understand them, they are pretty self explanatory.

1. The Golden Ratio or Fibonacci Spiral

Use the Golden Ratio to enhance your composition

Use the Golden Ratio to enhance your composition

This is a tool that has been used for centuries, as a design principle. Many famous works of art use the Golden Ratio in their composition and it is often seen in nature’s own designs. Think of the spiral of a snail shell, how it curls in on itself. That shape conforms to the Golden Ratio. It is a ratio of 1:1.618 which seems to work really well in design and photography. To read much more detail about this technique check out: Divine Composition With Fibonacci’s Ratio (The Rule of Thirds on Steroids).

2. Unity

Unity is about order. Repetition can be very powerful in this regard. You can repeat shapes, lines, or colours in your image. By doing so you create a unified view of the scene, and this in turn gives a very powerful compositional effect. Unity can bring a calming feel to the image, try and find a subject that portrays this.

The lines and the rivets in the image make it feel uniform, as does the lack of colour

The lines and the rivets in the image make it feel uniform, as does the lack of colour

3. Coherence

Different from unity, coherence is more about similar types of elements or shapes in your scene. Think of a rocky river bed with similar sized rocks and pebbles. This scene would be coherent if the rocks and pebbles are a similar size, shape, and colour. Coherence appeals to the viewer’s sense of order, and can make for very interesting images.

Similar shapes and colours make this image feel more coherent

Similar shapes and colours make this image feel more coherent

4. Balance and Rhythm

Balance is pretty much as it says, the idea here is to try and arrange the elements in your scene so that the image is symmetrical. This can be done using lines and shapes. The ideas is to create a sense of equality in the scene. Rhythm is similar in a sense, but is about a repeating pattern in the scene. These are a little more difficult to find, but often a close up or abstract image can showcase this technique well.

The centred composition of this image of a theatre shows the balance in the scene

The centred composition of this image of a theatre shows the balance in the scene

The curved shapes of the glass buildings gives a great sense of rhythm

The repeated curved shapes of the glass buildings gives a great sense of rhythm

5. Space

Open, or negative space, in your image is sometimes as important as the subject. Negative space gives your subject context, and shows the viewer where or how your subject relates to its surroundings. Quite often, negative space is the sky. It can be tempting to ignore this one, but if it’s used correctly, this can be a very powerful compositional tool.

The texture in the clouds in give this image some gravity. If the sky were simply blue, it would not be as impactful

The texture in the clouds in give this image some gravity. If the sky were simply blue, it would not be as impactful

6. Breaking the Rules

Now that you have some new ideas about how to make better compositions. Knowing these techniques will certainly improve some of your images, but also, knowing how to break them is just as important. In some cases, it will be obvious which technique to use, in others, you may find that putting your subject in the middle of your frame works best. You need to decide what will work for your image. Try techniques like this and see if one works. If not, break the rules and do what you think looks good.

By cropping the building quite aggressively, the image seems unfinished, but the colours and the sky make it work

By cropping the building quite aggressively, the image seems unfinished, but the colours and the sky make it work

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Barry J Brady is a Fine Art Landscape and commercial photographer based in Vancouver, BC. He is also an addicted traveller and loves travelling to far off places and capturing their essence. Barry is an entertaining and experienced photography teacher and public speaker. He loves nothing more than being behind his camera or showing other photographers how to get the most out of their camera. To see more of his work, visit his site here

  • Mikelo Nava

    Great information to imrprove how w take photos according to a new focal vision.

  • Perla Darkbrain

    but how to know if you are a begginer whether breaking the rule give you a good result or is just an unvaluable shot .. same with negative space

  • TR Young

    It’s mostly trial and error, Perla. The best thing to do as a beginner is to start composing using the ‘Rule of Thirds’. Get used to placing interesting elements of your subject at an intersection point of the vertical and horizontal lines. Once you get used to that, try different compositions. It’s all a learning curve, and it boils down to what YOU like.

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    Remember that the ‘Rule’ of thirds is only a guide, not a law. It is said so that new photographers can avoid the classic ‘eyes in the centre of the frame’ which you see so often, and it sits alongside other so-called rules such as ‘never cut off people at the knees’. You can of course still have your subject in the centre of the frame if that is what you want! As TR has said, it’s a matter of trial and error. The great thing about digital photography is that your mistakes cost nothing but your time. So take a photograph, then change something and take another (or three). The best accessory for making good compositions is your feet – move around, get another angle, get lower or higher etc.
    Read Barry’s point No 6, ‘Breaking the Rules’ above.

  • Perla Darkbrain

    Thank you for your responses which were helpful and encouraging.

  • Glad you enjoyed the article Mikelo

  • Perla, I agree with the previous two comments and would really echo what TR said. Its about what works for you and for the scene. The “rule” of thirds is a guideline. My recommendation is try many different compositions of the scene if possible, if not, get the best shot you can and work with that. Its also about anticipating what will happen and trying to be proactive in getting the shot. Above all its about getting out there and shooting as much as you can, that will make your images infinitely better…always!

  • Perla, I agree with the previous two comments and would really echo what TR said. Its about what works for you and for the scene. The “rule” of thirds is a guideline. My recommendation is try many different compositions of the scene if possible, if not, get the best shot you can and work with that. Its also about anticipating what will happen and trying to be proactive in getting the shot. Above all its about getting out there and shooting as much as you can, that will make your images infinitely better…always!

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