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The Elements of Composition in Photography

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Tips from Digital Photographer, by Mark White
February 10, 2015

A brief guide to some of the most often used rules of composition

Composition needn’t be a tricky thing to master, though unlike the technical aspects of picture-taking, it can’t be measured like exposure and white balance. This makes it a subjective thing, requiring personal taste and an appreciation for a range of aspects such as line, shape, perspective and value – to name a few. There are however a few simple rules that you can follow, or at least consider when putting together your shot.


Look for pattern and texture in your subjects. These can produce great abstract images if photographed close up, or add interest to an otherwise flat image.


Be careful when considering symmetry in your images, as it can be too easy for the viewer’s eye to flit over. For a strong symmetrical image to work, there needs to be a sense of tension, which can be created by elements of suspense or surprise.

Depth of field

When organising space, depth of field can play a big role in how the image will look. Think about what you want to see sharp and then adjust your depth of field accordingly. Macro shots generally look best with the background out of focus.

Moments of time

If your scene is a source of action, pre-focus in order the capture the moment in time. Anticipation is key, so be prepared and choose your moment carefully. Alternatively, use Continuous Shooting modes to capture a sequence in time.


To really appeal to the viewer’s senses, incorporate texture into your shot. the appearance of texture can be heightened with the aid of good lighting. A light source raking across the textured surface will exaggerate it beautifully.


Tone relates to the full range of greys present in the scale from the blackest black to the purest white. For a tranquil appeal, it’s best to aim for low-contrast images, and conversely to emphasise extremes, opt for a high-contrast effect.


To take an image that really appreciates form, look out for areas of shading within your subject. The greater degree of shading and number of tones there are, the more pleasing the subject. Position yourself to capture as many shades as possible.


Composition and colour combine to create dramatic impact. Assess your main subject and think about whether it’ll benefit from colour treatment. A bleak scene can be made more dramatic by selectively colouring a single element. In contrast, a kitsch scene can benefit from high saturation and a plain backdrop.

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