Composition part 3

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Okay we are ready for the last post in the overview of rules of Composition.

Following on from Depth of Field and complimentary to it is Background.

Often the background is the most overlooked part of an image. We are so focused on our area of focus that we don’t notice the distractions. Take a moment to look around the frame of the image you have created to make sure there is nothing there that takes away from the image, no trees growing out of peoples heads, no limbs cut-off, no rubbish blowing around.


defining image by light

The background should be secondary to the main subject both in  tone and subject.We should look to see that the object or subject stands out from the background and shows it off or highlight it.  Unsharpness and blur can be used to separating the subject from the background and so can light, colour or contrast.





Symmetry, this can add another interest to the image and draw the viewer into the image. Symmetry is usually vertically or horizontally and splits the image into two halves.

It can bring sense of calm that soothes the viewer and a harmony that brings a sense of peace with it..The secret to an image with great symmetry is to have a strong point of focal interest and great composition. Otherwise the shot looks very clichéd.

sturt pea top view








Symmetry often appears in Patterns or Textures. If you add symmetry and texture as well as a strong focal point you can create an almost three dimensional image.

It is easy to find symmetrical images, it is far harder to capture them in an eye catching and interesting way. Other places you will often get symmetry is in reflections and in architecture.

Patterns have always captured the imagination are are great to use in photography as they can create an abstract image where only the pattern is shown or can add an interesting element to a wider angle of photograph. Pattern is the repetition of a visual design or element in a photograph. Patterns are everywhere around us, in architecture, in nature, in science and in man made objects.

A repeating pattern in an image is like a rhyming stanza in a poem or the chorus of a song.

Often to find the patterns in an image you have to look for it from different angles, also different lighting can create patterns including patterns made of shadows. Patterns are often hidden within an element, so you have to really look for them.




Patterns can also be broken to create drama and add an extra element of interest. Our eyes are drawn to the point where the pattern is broken. This is a way of directing the eyes of the viewer.

Depth of field and colour also play a part in making an image of a pattern have depth and interest. As the focus blurs we get the feeling of the pattern going on to infinity and where the colour is contrasted it makes the single colour element stand out from the other areas of pattern, once again adding interest and depth. Lighting is also important in patterns as in every area of photography.

If you like a pattern try photographing it in as many different lighting situations as you can and you will get the feel for what makes a dramatic image and what makes a more peaceful, calming image.

Texture is another area that is very similar to patterns as it works in the same way, the difference is that a lot more things have textures than have patterns. Texture adds depth to an image and if you add a foreground interest with texture it helps balance an image as well as draw the viewer. The trick to photographing detail is to take it from as side on as possible to capture the most detail, so this applies to texture as well, for example if you want to add a foreground interest to a landscape and say it’s a log or a rock, to get the texture to stand out get down really low so you are shooting it from it’s height, taking the side view of the object instead of looking down on it from above.

texture in rock








Color  & Contrast

Certain colours really pop in photos, most notably red and blue

Cold colors (bluish) and warm colors (reddish) almost always contrast. Cold colors recede, while warm colors advance. Light colors contrast against dark ones, and a bold color offsets a weak color.


colours that pop







Black and white & contrast

Low-key and high-key pictures convey mood and atmosphere. Low key often suggests seriousness and mystery and is often used in horror pictures, such as a dark-granite castle in a thunderstorm. High key creates a feeling of delicacy and lightness. A photograph of a fair-skinned, blond-haired mother dressed in a white gown against a light background nursing her baby is a good subject for a high-key picture.

adifferent view

The underside of Busselton Jetty








High Key Images

High-key color pictures contain large areas of light de-saturated colors (pastels) with very few middle colors or shadows. Intentionally overexposing color film (exposing for the shadows) helps to create this effect in the days of the darkroom, we can now create this image in camera and further refine it in post processing.

Low Key Images

These are the opposite of high key images. A low-key effect is created when the scene is dominated by shadows and weak lighting. Low-key pictures tend to have large areas of shadow, few highlights, and degraded colors. Naturally dark subjects are best for low-key pictures.


Low key image

Low Key and High Key images are often used in high end fashion shoots.






It is important to have balance in an image, for example if you have a strong foreground element on one side, you really need something to balance it it the background, or as in this one something to balance an object on one side mirroring the objects on the other side to balance the overall image.

three birds

Balance in an image, rule of odds








Framing adds an unexpected element to an image and helps draw us into an image. Frames can be man made or natural, both work well.

a palm frond frame









Often less is more. If you look at an image and don’t know where to look as there is so much within it then it may be time to simplify it. Create a series of images, each one focusing on one element. The images will be stronger and hold the viewers attention longer.

full moon 1

Full moon in Broome WA, detail







Fill frame

This is similar to simplify, if you fill the frame with your main object everyone knows what they are looking at. This also works great for abstracts. If an abstract, texture, pattern or symmetry fills the frame it intrigues the viewer even more.

color and fill frame

fill frame


Aspect Ratio – Photography Rules of Composition

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I have recently been asked to explain the different rules of composition, so I thought I would do it here so it is available for everyone.

When we talk about rules of composition in photography we most naturally think of the rule of thirds, but there is actually a few others too, the golden ration,the spiral, diagonals and the triangle.

To explain these I will show you images with these rules applied, but before that I need to explain, the lines themselves are where the eye will normally travel too, the intersection of the lines is the “sweet” spot and is where your main object should be and where your 100% focus should be. Remembering that these are really guidelines, not rules, so if the image doesn’t fall into the sweet spot then still aim for the main object to be on one of the lines.

An example of this is with the rule of thirds, look at the landscape below, the horizon is on the lower line of the rule of thirds and then the point of interest, the houses on the jetty are at the intersecting point. The horizon where it is, helps to balance the image and the “sweet” spot draws our eyes to the buildings and then our eyes naturally follow the leading line of the jetty itself to all the other points of interest. Composition is about more than just ratios so have a look at my other posts on the other rules of composition.

The most well known rule, the rule of thirds, this is like a game of nought and crosses with the image divided into thirds both vertically and horizontally and you try to put your horizon on either the bottom third line or the top third line, this creates a much more appealing composition than the horizon in the dead centre. Now a word of caution here, these are more like guidelines than rules are so can be broken:) For example, with reflections it is often better to have the horizon in the middle, so these are guides, not hard and fast rules.

These rules or guidelines, came about by evidence that the human eye is naturally drawn to the intersection of the lines when the image is divided into thirds, the same applies for the other ratios. Also if the horizon is placed on either the bottom or the top line then the image is much more balanced.


rule of thirds ratio

This is a traditional example of rule of thirds






The next rule which is similar to the rule of thirds is the Golden Ratio. In this one the lines are slightly closer together than in the rule of thirds. These sections that are roughly 1:1.618. (See image below)

composition ratio

The image is divided equally in 3






The next composition rule is the triangle rule. This is often used in portraiture photography. The objects of interest are on mainly one side of the image, with the point of the triangle being the main focal point. Here you can see the pen tip is on the tip of the triangle and the book is angled along the diagonal of the triangle and finally the hands follow the other line of the triangle.

triangle composition

This is a photograpic example of the triangle ratio






Then we have the spiral rule of composition. This is one that is not used a lot, but when it is it is very effective.

Spiral ratio

This is the spiral composition rule






You will notice the curve of the petals starts the spiral and the tightest part of the spiral draws your eye to the in focus area in the centre of the flower.

The final main rule is the rule of diagonals.

ratio composition

This is an example of the diagonals rule of composition






You will notice that the girls body follows the diagonal and the eyes are at the junction points leading your eyes here. This is usually used when there is no horizon in the image and you are using leading lines that are on the diagonal. The main focus areas are along the lines and at the intersecting points, not in the middle, However if you look at the image above you will see that by putting her eyes on the intersecting points the rest of her face falls into the middle, thus the confusion.

Here is an overlay of 4 of the rules. From this you will notice that the sweet spots (the red dots) are quite close to each other, making for an overall sweet area. The red dot at the top that doesn’t appear to correlate with an intersecting line is where the spot would be if the spiral was inverted.

overlay of some of the composition rule

The red dots show the sweet spots of an image






To choose which rule to use, look at your subject, does it have a horizon, can the image be divided up into three sections, does it fit with rule of thirds or golden ratio, then use one of these rules. Is it a close up of an object or a portraiture shot. Portraiture shots usually use the rule of thirds, golden ratio or triangle rules. To use the spiral rule your image needs to have lines or objects that follow a spiral pattern.


The composition ratios are not just as to where the objects fall, the intersecting points are where the focus should be. That is why I have put the girls eyes at the intersecting point as her eyes are the point that needs to be 100% in focus.

Photo composition is one of the important ingredients in making  a great photograph. How you arrange the objects in a scene, where you want the eyes to focus on, what emotion you want the image to convey all contribute  to the overall success of the image.

Will it tell the story as you see it?  Will it have impact? Will that impact be positive or negative? What emotion does it show? Is it just a picture documentation of what is there or is it a creative art image? All these things are brought about by the way you use the rules of composition.

There are many other areas of composition we also need to remember, but I will cover those in another post.

If you have any questions please comment below and feel free to share it with your fellow photographers.