Advanced Composition: Using Geometry

Advanced Composition: Using Geometry

When you think of composition in photography, what are the first things that comes to mind? Rule of thirds. Fill the Frame. Leading lines. Depth. Repetition. If you are really educated, you may also think of perspective, angles, and color.


The world of artistic composition actually includes quite a bit more than you may think. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just like with the basic rules of composition, you can train your eye to identify the other principles of composition, making your photos more dynamic than you thought possible.

Learning advanced composition is simpler than you may think. You only need to focus on one word: Geometry.

Yes. That course that you took in High School actually can have great influence in your photographic composition. In fact, many artists can subconsciously identify the shapes through a viewfinder, but they wouldn’t necessarily realize it unless pointed out by someone else. I’ll prove it to you:



Using rectangles is a close likeness to Rule of Thirds. However, rather than keeping each section of your frame equal, you can use rectangles of varying sizes to place your subject. In this image the rectangles make up the bottom half of the frame, and the left side of the frame, isolating the light pol as the subject.



I love using circles in photographs. You can capture a certain energy with the motion of a circular line, and also lead your eye through the frame. You can use full circles, or half circles to compose with those curves. The use of circles in this shot draws you into the depth of the scene, allowing you to take in the water and reflection, and the backdrop of the mountains.



Triangles are perhaps the easiest shape to find when composing your images. Go back and look through your photos, and see if you can consistently find triangles. These angles naturally create a depth of composition and interest to your photographs. The separate areas along the fence create a natural flow for your eye to come to the mountain – and even that is in the shape of a triangle.



While you may not look through your viewfinder and say to yourself “I should use a polygon for this image”, you may be surprised by how the use of those shapes help your photographs make sense visually. In this image the Polygon is created by flowers in the foreground – and also a contrast between the light and dark areas.



Squares make excellent frames, and also provide incredible interest with repetition. With this image, the square is in the very middle of the frame, created by the chairs and my subject. Squares are also a part of the background with the books and bookshelves.



Arches have the similar natural motion of circles, but these may be more a part of the background than a complete shape in itself. The heart shape of the hands in the background create 3 arches – which also frame the flower itself.

Parallel Lines & Converging Lines:

Converging Lines.JPG

It can be very difficult to use lines well. But not only is it possible, when used, these parallel and converging lines can be quite effective for composing background elements. In this shot there are both. The lines pews mirroring one another, and the direction of the pews leading you in toward the subject.

LeadingParallel Lines.JPG

Space: Relationship and Balance


Having a solid understanding of space will add additional strength and storytelling to your photos. As you see with this image – which is compositionally quite simple – there is more established by how close the viewer is to bench, and then how much space and emptiness there is behind. These elements can lead the viewer to create a story from their own experience or emotions.


Spend a bit of time taking one element at a time, and practicing your compositional techniques. You may not master the advanced principles right away, but you certainly will enjoy the challenge!

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography and leadership with

Some Older Comments

  • Chitra Sivasankar Arunagiri November 11, 2012 02:25 am

    WOW great article!!! Never thought these ways when shooting. Will try looking it that way from now. I already see myself holding my camera and looking at geometrical shapes in the frame. ;) cool.

  • Doug Finch August 1, 2012 07:20 am

    I certainly appreciate your interesting vision. I am working on articles for our club and this would advance their vision. With you permission, I would like to share it through our club newsletter. Doug

  • Roy Hale July 29, 2012 09:16 am

    Not too good................ Sorry.

  • Rick July 24, 2012 04:01 am

    I agree with elliott. examples of shots not composed & composed would be a great help. c'mon Christina...a rewrite of this with better examples would be great!

  • Robinhj July 14, 2012 09:28 pm

    Denise is partially right. It is rarely practical to calculate all the geometry on the fly though we all have the ability to unconsciously 'know' when something looks right (I am leaving aside staged & constructed shots). Some people probably have a better feel for it than others and can more easily see where a small adjustment might make a big difference but it is still useful stuff to know. If only occasionally you pause to think "If I just moved sideways 1 metre then that fence and that road would both frame the triangular building exactly" then it has been a success. Most people unconsciously use the rule of thirds without knowing what it is but knowing the rule (I should say 'guide') can make it more likely that you will think about your composition , even it is to make a concious decision not to use thirds. Where Denise is wrong is to think that if you don't have a natural instinct already then you wont benefit from knowing the theory. In my opinion Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of the master of photo composition but he always vehemently resisted talk of him have a 'gift', he always insisted that it was an ability that had to be 'cultivated' (and indeed his earliest work is not very good at all :-) )

    Try for a great article on the use of geometry in composition.

  • Elliott July 14, 2012 12:09 pm

    Finding or superimposing geometry on any photo is simple. What the author failed to do is to show how to compose a scene by using geometry. I did't get anything out of her article that usable. Most of the articles on this website are very informative and worthwhile - not this one.

  • SimplyStacy July 14, 2012 10:13 am

    And... I'm not magic, or looking for magical photos. I'm not looking to become famous. I just want to use my camera to capture life to the best of my ability and appreciate any assistance. I don't need to be considered a serious or professional photographer. I have no arrogance about my abilities. I simply love photography, whether I'm gifted or not is irrelevant. Those who are so gifted and serious should lighten up (and consider shutting up) and just let those of us who want to learn, learn!

  • SimplyStacy July 14, 2012 10:05 am

    I wish there was a fee to post comments, then maybe fewer of the ones not worth being made would be made. I'm still learning and eager to take in as much as I can. I find this info helpful. However, If I didn't, I certainly wouldn't bash it... I would just look for more. I wish others did the same. The worst thing about DPS - The annoying negative complaining know it all commenters that you have to sift through to find the informative comments. I sometimes lack confidence in my composition, I will definitely try to keep these ideas in mind. Thank you for the geometry/geography lesson.

  • Duke July 14, 2012 12:28 am

    I agree with robinj. The whole geometry thing is a lot of whooey, made up after the fact. Nobody can convince me that a decent photographer looks at a scene and says, "Hey, Martha, move a little to the right so I can make a polygonal hexagon-like composition here."

  • Denise July 13, 2012 08:52 pm

    I can't imagine having to consciously look for these things when taking a photo. I understand that DPS is here to cover all aspects of photography so I'm not criticising why this has been covered, some will benefit. But I can't help but think that if someone isn't composing instinctively, then photography may not be for you. The eye and the brain will pick out these things if you've got the flair for it, and if you get caught up in looking for these things, I suspect the photos will lose some of their magic.

  • Robinhj July 13, 2012 05:42 pm

    I can't help thinking that you could take absolutely *any* photo, no matter how badly composed, and say 'look. It has a triangle/circle/rectangle as its basis.' The library shot with squares is fine, also the heart and the repeating pews; I can accept that these may have been deliberate, even if subconscious, choices. Unless I am missing the point, saying that flower photo has a polygon in it is basically saying 'This photo has no regular shapes or curves at all so lets invent a random one.' If you had used an example with a pentagon or hexagon I would have been with you.
    The mountain shot only contains two triangles; the mountain itself is not a triangle, it would have looked a lot better if the mountain had been a triangle. What it does have is parallel diagonals (mountain side and fence) and with a little crop at the bottom the diagonal fence would be on the reciprocal line of the sinister diagonal which is a classic placement.(the sinister diagonal runs from bottom right to top left corner and the reciprocal of that runs from bottom left or top right corner to intersect the diagonal at 90 degrees)

  • Zach July 13, 2012 05:21 pm

    I just bought myself a camera and this is the first photo tutorial i have watched. To me it lopks like you can find those shapes in any picture, squares, arcs, even polygons! So i cant understand what makes this so special, since, as i see it, there are shapes in every damn picture, good or bad pictures.
    If anyone could link me a picture that havent got any geometry like this, i'd be really happy. Or maybe you could explain whats so special about this, because i dont understand it at all. Not saying its bad info, i just have no idea what its about!


  • Daniel Upton July 13, 2012 03:42 pm

    Geez, can't beleive everyone's getting their nickers in a knot over a typo! Nice post.

  • Dr Ranjith July 13, 2012 03:41 pm

    Wonderful article. There is so much to learn. After going through this article, for sure my skills in composing the image will definitely get better. Thanx DPS.

  • David July 13, 2012 01:48 pm

    extremely interesting post! I fully enjoyed every aspect of it! nice job I'm sure it helped the gifted artist in stimulating vision. the others who spent the time worried about a word most likely dont have the ability in the first place to dare dream and create on their own merit. they need exact instruction excuse them. TRUE ARTIST see not only what is there but what is not. they see past the obvious and gain a vision and knowledge. if this was an english literature or online writing class I would understand. this is art we are artist not journalist. keep posting those of us who understand enjoy the artistic stimulation.

  • Duke July 13, 2012 11:46 am

    I think the geometry part is stretching things more than a bit. I'll bet my D300 that geometry never crossed the mind of the photographer of the above before the shot. I think it's fine to play these comp games after the fact, but let's get serious, okay? I really can't visualize a serious photographer (in the pole capture above) saying, oh look there's a square if I offset the pole and that will make this one really great. Or on the fences, my three triangles, this is what I've been looking for all day.

    Just visualize transporting the viewer to you scene and fire!

    Did I say I hated geometry in high school?

  • Photographer Durango CO July 13, 2012 11:38 am

    None of my clients have ever mentioned composition or the reason they like an image, but I do notice that they tend to like the images with the correct compositions as shown above.

  • compaan July 13, 2012 11:33 am

    Nice article, I have not been able to discover the term geography in the article, only in the replies... Strange.

  • Luis Macedo July 11, 2012 10:09 pm

    An Excelente Article!!!
    The best post about composition i've seen in the last months!

  • Dewan Demmer July 10, 2012 12:21 am

    Not that I cared whether it was geography or geometry the point was made by the article, which I agree with.
    I admit while I look for the geometry so often once I get shooting i forget to look for the geometry. When I am looking I tend to keep it simple, nothing more than squares, triangles, circles and so on. I probably feel if I have to use a complicated shape I may aswell start making them up.

    If you look at my post you will probably notice I use basic shapes ( geometry ) and where it gets complicated well I was probably working on something else in my head ( Multi-tasking is never my strong point )

  • Bruce D Roberts, M. lPhotog. July 9, 2012 10:17 am

    Yes there is geometric space in composition and the person to demo this was
    Google him

  • Darren Rowse July 9, 2012 10:02 am

    apologies all for the title mis spell - after 10 days herding 3 kids 5 and under around pools in tropical Fiji my brain is frazzled and that one slipped through. All fixed.

  • WarrenM July 8, 2012 09:34 pm

    Christina took the time to put this post together to help inform us about composition.
    I think she did a wonderful job so what does it really matter that she made a small mistake in the title.
    I'm sure we all knew what she really meant and to get so upset about this one small mistake says more about the person who is upset then it does about one small mistake.
    Well done Christina.

  • Sime July 8, 2012 12:45 pm

    Ron, I've edited out your swearing. Thank you for saying what everyone else has already said. You're right - perhaps the author had a moment with this one - and it will have been scheduled in without a proof read as our editor, Darren, has only just returned from a holiday... From time to time they slip through....


  • Slowolf July 8, 2012 10:42 am

    Ron you are rude.

  • ronbailey July 7, 2012 11:52 pm

    What the f***? That's geometry, not geography. It's kind of hard to take you seriously if you can't be bothered to proof read. And you might want to stick to using words you actually understand.

  • Barry E July 7, 2012 10:21 pm

    Nice tips. I've been using Rules of thirds, now geometric shapes. I'll have to start using this as well. Good tutorial, another lesson learned. Thanks.

  • Slowolf July 7, 2012 06:43 pm

    Notice that nature has few straight lines. Shapes are not so smooth lines. Assymetry is common. all that to say soft and subtle are good too. RR tracks are straight lines converging in distance but irregular terrain on borders give detail and interest.

  • EnergizedAV July 7, 2012 01:22 pm

    Very well put, thank you. I try to compose with as much nature as possible. There is so much natural design already.
    Here's a triangular pattern.

  • Shelly July 7, 2012 05:36 am

    As others have pointed out, you mean geometry, that math course in school with the shapes and angles and equations to explain them.

    Geography is the science about land masses and locations, maps and such. I couldn't figure out what the shapes had to do with geography and thought I'd read the title wrong. But I hadn't. ;)

    Interestingly, I tend to be a very symmetrical person. I love balance, evenness in life. But not in photos. In photos, I prefer asymmetry. I never have figured that out.

  • TheOmniarch July 7, 2012 04:59 am

    OK, the people above have covered the geography/geometry confusion, and even the misspelling of the former.

    But another thing, what exactly do you mean by polygon?

    I mean you draw *a* polygon, but I don't actually understand the lesson. Polygon is a blanket term for 'multisided (cornered) shape'. So you are advocating looking for abstract shapes...? I can find a polygon in most not-completely-minimal photographs...

    This seems just to say have multiple planes in your photos?

    I'm only being *slightly* nitpicky here (I could go on about how half the examples are polygons...), but mostly I am unsure on what the technique on that example is recommending, terminology not withstanding.

    Having said all that the tips, and examples, are interesting and I see how useful they are (almost) immediately.


  • clickstation July 7, 2012 03:01 am

    Thanks! The geometry parts I've heard somewhere else before, but the "space" part really taught me something new!

    Oh, and don't worry about geography/geometry, it's a simple mistake. Me, i'm not really good at vocabulation, either ;)

  • Steve July 7, 2012 02:05 am

    I agree this is geometry not geography. It is however quite a good reminder that composition is often about shapes and their position:

    This composition is all about shapes:

  • Marisa July 7, 2012 01:47 am

    Good tips! But I think you mean "geometry," the mathematical study of shapes and their properties, not "geography," the study of physical features places on Earth.

  • Aaron July 7, 2012 01:46 am

    This article really hits home. I've always tried to include geographic shapes in my photographs. Particularly in landscapes, but just the other day I took wonderful candid shot of a man who had a mole that looked just like Africa! I find that still lifes really shine when I include the shapes of Asian nations and I try to go for that archepelagic feel in my architectural work. Great post!

  • Nathan Franke July 7, 2012 01:45 am

    You mean "geometry?" Geography is "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego"; describing polygons is geometry.

  • raghavendra July 7, 2012 01:39 am

    This is the first time i am hearing all about it!
    everything is good except it is misspelled as georgraphy in title

  • Mridula July 7, 2012 01:31 am

    Never ever thought about it at all and that is why I love DPS. Always new things to learn.