Here is my definition of photography composition: it is the way in which a photographer (or artist) arranges
the different elements of a scene to produce an image that is coherent where the whole seems
to be greater than the sum of the parts.
"The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected
that you find in the street."
Robert Doisneau (1881-1955), French Photographer
Composition is what gives structure to a photograph however without emotional content within
the image, composition on its own, no matter how good it is, will only produce a picture that
is superficial. Composition in visual art is like grammar in writing - it can provide a compelling
structure but you must have something to say that is of interest to your viewer or reader beyond
the elements on the page.
Line, shape, pattern, texture and color are the five main elements in photography composition, whether in a
photograph or a painting. How they are combined, balanced and blended will decide if the
picture is artistically successful or not. In a successful image, all the elements will have
a place and a function - no one element will appear to be superfluous, it will feel as if
nothing has been left out and the picture will have a simplified unity. It will feel complete.
And when successful, the underlying emotional content, or message of the picture, will be all
the more powerful.
Click the image to enlarge
Perhaps you are now thinking that it is easier to control the elements of a composition when
painting or drawing rather than when making a photograph. In fact one isn't easier than the other,
they just have different approaches. The painter can edit out parts of a scene that s/he doesn't
wish to include, and the photographer is somewhat limited - he can't just move the telegraph pole
out of the picture unless he does some editing in Photoshop or the darkroom at a later stage. But
the real difference between the two arts lies in the process. Painting is the art of constructing
an image, photography is the art of selection.
It would seem the painter has greater freedom than the photographer but there are so many
choices that a photographer can make. Choice of lens, ISO, angle of shooting, colour or
black and white, use of filters, changing the lighting (or waiting for the right light), the
printing process itself - all these conspire to offer the photographer a limitless range of
But the most important element photography composition lies within the photographer's own pscyhe - his
imagination. Without this essential element, what you end up with is a snapshot. But a photographer
who posesses imagination may continually employ the elements of good composition to continually create
pictures that are original and considered artistic.
Perhaps not everyone has great imagination but everyone can develop the imagination and talents they do
possess by learning to apply the rules of composition to their own art form and by remaining open
to new ways of looking and thinking at all times.
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More Great Quotes
"Nowadays people's visual imagination is so much more sophisticated, so much
more developed, particularly in young people, that now you can make an image which just slightly
suggests something, they can make of it what they will."
Robert Doisneau (1881-1955) French Photographer
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