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Composition by Andrea Anderson

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

Composition by Andrea Anderson

My name is Andrea of @mama_and_little. I'm a mama of a two and four year old, with our third due this fall. We live in the beautiful PNW. My children and I love exploring and taking walks in different natural locations around our area. In addition to photography I enjoy knitting, reading, hiking, drawing, singing, and playing guitar. I dabbled in photography from a young age. My parents bought me my first digital camera at twelve and I enjoyed taking photos of my younger sisters. I started getting more serious about photography when my oldest was born. I decided to attempt taking his newborn photos and a few months later I began my first project 365. From there I’ve been continuing learning and growing as a photographer through groups such as p52 clicks. I’m honored to be sharing a little about composition with you this month.

What is Composition?

To put it simply, composition is how the elements within the photograph are arranged. This can be something as obvious as where you position the main subject, or as subtle as the placement of certain colors throughout the frame. How you choose to compose your frame will determine the story you tell. Even the slightest change of your angle and position can greatly affect the scene you capture. Composition includes a myriad of different aspects, a few of which I will touch on in the following sections. 

Basic Compositional Elements

It’s important to have a basic understanding of the “rules” of composition to then be able to either follow them or break them with purpose. Having a good understanding of the fundamentals will give you a solid foundation on which to branch out and experiment artistically. Photography and art as a whole is up to the discretion of the artist and their vision; So while I’ll be speaking a bit about the “rules” keep in mind that art is subjective and it’s up to the artist whether or not they follow them. 

The following are a few examples of different elements of composition with photos for illustration. Often a photo will contain many of the different aspects within the same frame. 

Leading lines - Lines within an image can help to draw the viewer's eye through the frame. They can help draw your eye to the subject as well as deeper into the photograph. 

Framing - Framing is using the elements in an image to surround the subject and help draw the viewer's eye where you want them to look. It can add depth and interest to an otherwise flat image. The framing can be as subtle as shooting through foliage or as literal as the frame of a mirror.

Symmetry - Symmetry is achieved when, if the image is divided evenly, the two sides mirror each other. Our minds subconsciously look for patterns and repetition within images, and symmetry can add a sense of balance which is pleasing to the eye.

Rule of thirds - The rule of thirds is achieved when, if the image is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically, the points of interest fall on one of the four intersections. Generally if the subject is facing one side of the frame, you would position them so that they are looking into the frame rather than towards the edge. Though again, rules are made to be broken. Having the subject facing towards the edge of the frame can add a sense of mystery to the image; leaving the viewer to wonder what the subject sees.  

Center composition - With center composition the subject is placed in the middle of the frame. This composition lends itself well to be combined with other elements such as leading lines, scale, and negative space.

Creative Compositional Elements

The following parts of composition are a little more nuanced and tend to break the “rules” more often than the earlier examples. Incorporating unexpected compositions into your work can be freeing and even help you break out of photographic ruts.

Negative space - Negative space is the area surrounding your subject that lacks much visual information. The simplicity provides contrast against your subject making it stand out from the frame.

Creative crops - Experimenting with unconventional crops can lead to creating compelling and playful images. Cropping can help bring focus to parts of the frame that you wish to draw attention to and is an excellent way to capture the small details of a scene. 

Filling the frame - Filling the frame with your subject works well with portraits and images of small details. It helps to simplify the image and can also cut out distractions that may be around your subject.

Movement - When the subject is moving through the frame from one side to the other, generally you would place them so that they are heading into the frame. Typically you wouldn’t place them on the rule of thirds facing the edge of the frame. Doing this can leave the viewer with a sense of tension. Because many countries read from left to right, it is said that we subconsciously read photographs the same way. Placing your subject so that the movement is from left to right can help give the image better flow. Personally I tend to flip the image either way and see which I prefer. Be sure to pay attention to things within the image that must also then be flipped, such as words and familiar logos.

Scale - Scale is the size of an object in relation to another. In these examples I’ve made my subject small in the frame in relation to his surroundings to exaggerate his smallness and vulnerability.

Layering - Layering typically includes foreground, midground, and background. It helps to add depth and dimension to an image. In the first image I cut small branches from a tree whose leaves had turned to fall colors and shot through them to add depth to the image.

Perspectives - Changing perspectives can have a dramatic effect upon composition and the story you portray. Shooting from above is a personal favorite as it’s easier to fully capture all the different details of a scene. Shooting from a low perspective can add interesting elements to an image that you wouldn’t otherwise see. In the first image, the puddle that my son was standing near was actually very small, but because I shot from a low vantage point I was able to capture the reflection of him and the flowers in the water.