What is Composition?

What is composition? Is it important? Should I bother to learn composition? These are the questions I am hoping to answer for you in this article.

In any 2-dimensional representation of the 3-dimensional world, there are always  some kind of organisational principles present, whether we perceive them consciously or not. 

This  is true for a simple line drawing as well as the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The elements of composition in photography are not dissimilar to those in painting  and drawing although the way in which they are used to put together the picture differ  quite markedly.  The five main elements in photography composition are line, shape, pattern, texture  and colour and these same elements are found in painting.

three white calla lilies with butterfly by Anne Darling - click to buy now

Above: White Lilies by Anne Darling

How these five elements 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.

It may seem that some photographers working in genres such as, for example, war photography or street photography, work too quickly to have time to arrange the elements but this is not quite accurate since years of practising and analyzing underlie each and every shot they make.

Some people do seem to have an innate ability to take shots where the composition is  extraordinary and everything seems to just fit together perfectly but by and large  most great photographers have a good knowledge of the principles of composition.

This  knowledge may come from studying paintings or having read books but one way or another,  if you study the rules of composition, your time will not be wasted. 

Photographic composition is possibly the most important skill you will ever learn and I really hope these articles will go some way to answering your questions, and that this section will help you to build a body of ideas that will be with you at all times.

You can start now by choosing one of the articles below:

  1. The Philosophy of Composition: Puts some theory behind the practice!
  2. Basic Composition: Choice of Angle & Foreground Interest
  3. The Principles of Composition: A few guidelines to get you started
  4. Good Photo Composition: Correspondence & Vertical Lines

› What is Composition?

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