Rules of Composition – Part two

In this post we will cover more of the rules of composition. Many people think the ratio’s including Rule of Thirds are the end of the composition guidelines, but they are only one aspect. These are some of the others: Rule of Odds, leaving space, colour,texture, patterns (including symmetry), viewpoint, depth of field, orientation, Framing, leading lines, balance, simplify, background, focal depth, angles and take time. I will cover some in this post and the rest in Part three.

First, I want to talk about composition in general. The first two things you should ask when you look at a scene, the first is, what is the interesting element, what will people want to look at or what do I want to show people. Second should be what is the story I want to tell about this. This will then lead your composition. You will know you want to put the interesting elements at the intersecting points of the ratio rules and is there a leading line I can use to draw people into the image. What angle conveys the feeling I am getting. We see in 3D, photos are only 2D, so often we need to exaggerate something to make it feel the same in an image to what we experienced. Choosing a different angle often does this, as do all the rules of composition, so lets have a look at them.

Leading lines are designed to lead your eye into an image. We have learnt in the previous post that the intersection points are where our eyes tend to go first, so we want to create a leading line to draw people into the image and toward the point we want them to focus on .This also often gives the image a feeling of depth. We should stay away from lines that are completely horizontal, except the horizon of course, if a leading line is horizontal, it tends to form a wall or barrier, so we want a line that leads us to the focal point of the image.

leading line with golden ratio
leading line angling in from corner






If the leading line is on an angle, I try to start that angle at the corner of the image as this makes it a stronger leading line.

leading line and rule of thirds
another example of a leading line






This leading line is heading into image along the grid line of the rule of thirds and the dingy is near the intersection of the third lines balancing the image. We want the whole image to be interesting and to get people to give than glance at the image and then move on, so we use the rules of composition to help create an image that stands out and that captures the attention of the viewer.

Orientation is the next we will look at. Does this image lend itself to landscape or portrait orientation. Mainly landscapes are shot in horizontal, but sometimes it pays to experiment with vertical as well and the same goes for portraiture, which is normally shot vertically, try some horizontal ones as well.

Canarvon Jetty
…begins with one step.
Carnarvon Jetty









This is a landscape type image that is taken in a portrait or vertical orientation.

A couple enjoying the sunshine and the seclution of the pools at the top of Joffre Falls








This is an image of people taken in a landscape or horizontal orientation.

Have you ever heard of the Rule of Odds? This is where it is recognized that an odd number of things in a line or row or group is beter than an even number. With an even number our eye automatically goes to the middle of them which is a blank area, but with three it settles on the middle one.

rule of odds
two finches, see how your eye goes to the gap in the centre
three finches
rule of odds













This doesn’t mean you can’t have two people or two animals in a picture, just be aware of this and make sure their is no gap between them or they are interacting.

Jude and Neve
We are drawn to what is in the middle






Our eyes are drawn to what they are looking at between them. so in this case it helps to make the image and direct our eyes.

Another one along these lines is the rule of Leaving Space, this is where you leave room for our eyes to travel around the scene, to look where a model is looking, or to leave room for the boat to travel into or a bird to fly into. This rule states that if the subject is not looking directly to the camera, or looks out of the frame, there should be enough space for the subject to look into and our eyes to wander into. This technique creates intrigue in the minds of the viewers.

This image shows that there is room for the bike to travel into.

Leaving space 1
Motorbike stunt riding






leaving space 2
Low key

This is another example






Next one is ViewPoint. This is whether you take the image from normal height, bend down and get down low, climb a ladder and get up high. This also includes Angles, which is looking for unusual angles to take the image from. All of these help to add interest to the photo and create an image that looks different.

An example of this is with children, If we stand and take the photo we are actually looking down on the child, this makes the child look smaller, getting down to their level gives you a unique perspective. If you lie on the floor and look up to the child you will get a different perspective again.

If you want to make something look bigger or accentuate it’s size, then get down low. if you want to make something smaller and less significant then look down on it as you take the image.

Often if something is very large or very small it is good to include something that is universal to give a perspective on the object.

In this image I have used my finger just to give an indication of the size.

primrose orchid
This shows the size of a primrose orchid









In this one I have taken the praying mantis down at his level, but you can see the branch he is sitting on, so you realize though he looks large in the image, he is actually quite small.

praying mantis 1








In this image I have shot from down below the rocks, giving you a feel of how large the boulders are.

Rock formations
Unusual formations







This is a picture of my puppy, yes she is tiny, the work boots give you a reference point to know her size and I have got down on the grand to take her straight on

tuesday 3
Pappillion puppy






In this image I have enhanced the flower by shooting from below so the flower fills the frame and is highlighted against the light.

red tulip
Canberra Floriade








The next rule I would like to tell you about is Depth, this also includes Depth of Field.

Depth is the feeling of depth, this is another thing that helps make the image look more 3D as we are able to see into the image.  An image that you want to have real depth, for example a landscape image you need to look at the foreground, the middle ground, and background. The photos that really grab your attention will be ones that have some foreground interest as well as the main part of the image and then something interesting in the background, often the background is the sky in landscape.

log at sunset
foreground interest






This image has the branch as the foreground element, the ocean is the mid-ground and the sunset and clouds the background. If we only had two of these elements it would be a nice image, but having all three makes it a much more powerful image.

Depth of Field is used here to make sure that the whole image is in focus so that you can see all the scene. For this I used a large depth of field, which means a small aperture, which is a higher f stop. This was taken at f11.

Depth of field is the area of an image that is in focus.

Aperture is the amount of light that enters the camera. It is similar to the pupil on a human eye. In darker situations our pupil opens up to allow more light in and in really bright light our pupil closes down to let less light in. The f-stop is an inverse of this, so a small aperture is a large f-stop(f11-22) and a large aperture is a small f-stop(f1.5-5.6).

People get very confused with this. I like to remember it like this.

A large aperture = a small depth of field = a small f-stop

A small aperture = a large depth of field = a large f-stop

We can use depth of field to draw the viewers attention to where we want it. For example if it is a busy scene and we want our subject to stand out, then we use a small depth of field, so only the main object is in clear focus and the rest is blurred, we know it’s there, but we don’t pay much attention to it.

This is an image with a narrow depth of field, see how the background is blurred accentuating the flower.

karri spider orchid
shallow DOF

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