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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.