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Photography How-To: Elements of Composition

The explanation as to why a picture appeals to you



Have you ever looked at a photograph
– or a painting for that matter - in a gallery, book, magazine or online that you admire, but can’t put your finger on why? Impact is an obvious ingredient of a picture’s success, but overall the answer will probably lie in the manner the photograph is composed. In practical terms I’m referring to the elements of interest included in the shot such as foreground, middle ground, and the background. Especially when it comes to landscape photography, each is an important ingredient that grabs the attention of the viewer.

Consideration of the composition will vary according to the many different types of photography that abound. For instance, someone shooting exclusively for calendars should be taking the utmost care in composing a landscape, as that photograph will be viewed for at least a month, and needs to contain enough detail and interest to enable it’s viewer to regularly ‘lose’ him or herself in the picture.

Foreground interest
So how is good composition related to your own photography? Well, for example, you’re on holiday in the mountains and are standing at the edge of a lake. You might want to include a friend or relation in the picture, or boulders, grass and suchlike protruding from the water, or in my example below, boats. This is called foreground interest, and grabs the attention of the viewer.

Rule of ‘thirds’
This is where you can put the “rule of thirds” into operation, as illustrated here via a grid overlay . . .

Canadian Rockies, Alberta

The ‘thirds’ in this image are approximate, as the mountain peak is beyond the right-hand third, but matters not. The boats in the foreground sit cozily in the bottom third of the image, and the middle ground contains more interest in the form of additional boats. Lastly the background is clouds and mountains, with the low hanging cloud adding further interest . . . a benefit of shooting early or late in the day.

By the way, the rule of thirds is a guideline and should be ignored whenever you think fit!

'Framing' options
Foreground interest is not essential, but what if foreground elements aren’t available or accessible anyway? One solution is to create a ‘frame’ by shooting through out-of-focus leaves or flowers, silhouetted trees, archways and so on such as these examples . . . .

Llyn Gwynant, Meirionydd, Wales


The 'thirds' at play in Bryce Canyon, Utah

Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland


The tower set against the sky with nothing else in the image was somewhat ‘vanilla’, so I opted for the frame of a pair of trees as per the image at right.

Pleasing to the eye . . . the reasons why
The images above provide plenty for the eye to explore, but there is another reason that the images might be pleasing to you! . . . If you read text from left to right you’ll find yourself unconsciously studying a photograph or painting in the same manner, with the eye eventually ending up in the vicinity of the right-hand third. On the other hand, folk in Middle East, Asia and the Far East generally read from right to left and thus are likely to enjoy a photograph all the more if the above compositions are reversed. Try reversing or ‘flopping’ an image to see!

In conclusion
It is my hope that these photography tips will be of use to you. However, it should be pointed out that the most important ingredient in any image is you! Photography is an art, and every camera user is a quite different artist with his or her own style. So, go out and develop your style, and use both the guidelines and your imagination to get fulfillment from your picture taking.

Remember that whatever you photograph, the end result is limited only by your imagination!



Written and photographed by John Baker, Photographer/Guide, Travel Images Photography Tours

All images and text are strictly copyrighted by John Baker Photographer LLC/Travel Images Photography Tours, 1988 - 2024.

Permission in writing must be sought for any form of reproduction.


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