If you are wondering what composition has to with photography, let me tell you that it is one of the most important things to consider. It’s not just musicians and English teachers who worry about composition. Composition means arranging things in order, and that’s an important part of photography as well.
So, What Exactly Is Composition?
Let’s start by looking at the meaning of the word in general. It can mean two different things. Firstly, it refers to the way in which parts are arranged to make a whole piece. Secondly, it can mean a piece of music or artwork. If you look closely, you’ll see that the second meaning is just an extension of the first. Can you imagine a symphony in which notes are randomly arranged and musicians play them independently of each other? That would be cacophony, right? So let’s say that composition is arranging things in an orderly way.
Why is Composition Important in Photography?
I’m sure you want to present your shots as attractively as you can. That means having the right thing in the right place. Imagine a model coming on the catwalk with lipstick on her eyebrows and lips touched up with an eyebrow pencil! Well, that’s an extreme example, for sure, but unknowingly, you may be doing something similar with your shots if you fail to pay attention to composition. The solution is simple. If you want to create a symphony with your camera, pay attention to composition.
Let’s Get Down to the Details
Why Should You Bother with Composition in Photography?
The word composition means order to a photographer. A photograph conveys a message. You can convey that message precisely only if you arrange the objects properly. This means not only putting things in their proper order but also distinguishing between background and foreground objects.
It Isn’t “the More the Merrier” When It Comes to Composition
Would you agree that it’s easier to locate a person in a room with fewer people than in a crowded room? The principle is the same with your photograph. If there’s too much detail, your main object will be hard to locate. Keeping details within manageable limits is part of composition in photographs.
Scanty Details are Equally Bad
You may well be asking, “why not do away with the details altogether?” That way your main object will be clearly visible. No denying that. But there would be no beauty in it. Art is all about blending the object against the right background.
Give Your Composition the Attention It Deserves
To be a successful photographer, you should be able to figure out the right kind and extent of details, and then place them in proper order. That means composition is an important part of your photograph, and you should give it the attention it deserves.
How Do You Ensure Your Picture’s Composition is Good?
First, decide what elements or objects are necessary to make your photograph convey its message effectively. Make sure that all these elements are present. Try to avoid unnecessary elements. That might not be always possible. Then, work out where to place the remaining elements and how to highlight or obscure them.
A Photograph Captures a Real-Life Situation. How Can I Arrange the Objects in It?
If you are out shooting on a busy street, you can’t go around asking people to appear in a particular order. So that’s a perfectly valid question. Remember, though, that not all situations are the same. This means we must choose the strategy depending on the type of picture that you are shooting.
There Are Two Types of Photographs
These are the portraits, or still photographs, and landscapes, also called candid photographs. Let’s look at these two types and how we can ensure good composition in each of them.
Arranging the Objects in a Portrait Is Easier
We can arrange the objects more easily in a portrait than in a landscape because things aren’t moving on their own. You can take your time and arrange things the way you want.
You Still Have to Flex Your Artistic Muscles in Portraits
Composition in a portrait doesn’t happen on its own. It’s just easier because you are in command. But you still have to decide what goes where. Composition is about capturing the attention of the viewer and focusing it on the core idea of your photograph. Whether you are doing a portrait or a landscape, you still have to achieve that.
The Secret of Good Composition in a Photograph
I would say that as a concept composition sounds simple. But how do you achieve it in practice? The trick is to place the objects in such a manner that your focus object comes out clearly and your message is conveyed effectively.
Here’s an Example to Help You Get the Idea
Look at the sample photo given below. The choice of composition will depend on what you are trying to convey through your photo. Do you want to highlight the loneliness of the person? Do you want to bring out his smallness? Or do you just want to highlight the symmetry of the buildings? Once you decide on what to highlight, you can decide items that you want with greater clarity in your picture.
All That’s Fine for Portraits, But What About Landscapes?
Landscape photos are different. They involve people and objects that are moving on their own. You don’t have the time or the freedom to order them the way you want. You have to capture what you see.
Does This Mean There’s No Place for Composition in Landscapes?
Not at all. It just means you adopt a different strategy. In some cases, it might mean that you wait for things to arrange themselves in the way you conceive it. That means you will also have to anticipate what’s going to happen next before deciding to click. In other cases, you might need to position yourself in such a manner that the objects appear in the order you have in mind.
There’s More to Composition than Arranging Things
If you thought that arranging things in proper order is all there is to composition, think again. There are other issues like focal length, aperture, and the angle from which you shoot, which will also affect the composition.
How Do These Choices Affect My Picture?
Let’s look at the aperture. If you choose a wide aperture, the background and foreground appear blurred compared to the object in focus. The contrast will highlight your object more effectively. If you want a better balance rather than emphasis, you might choose a narrower aperture. That will show more objects in focus with equal prominence.
Remember: The Right Composition Depends on All The Choices You Make
Let’s look at the above example again. Choosing the right aperture and focus highlights your objects, but that can change if other conditions are different. If you look at the picture below, you’ll find that the wall is burred but still attracts attention because it has a brighter color. You can reduce that brightness by using something like an HSL panel of Lightroom. The point to remember is that all objects are still visible. Only the attention they draw is changed.
Did All That Sound a Bit Intimidating?
Don’t worry. It’s just a question of practice. After some time, all this will become second nature to you. You just need to be aware of these important principles. Good composition is a combination of instinct and technique. You will know when something doesn’t seem right. But that doesn’t mean you trust only your gut feeling. You can develop as a photographer by experimenting and finding out new combinations by yourself. Just be open to new ideas and be prepared to experiment.
Composition Isn’t the Same as Aesthetics
A final word of caution. Remember, the idea behind composition is not always a more pleasing photograph. Sometimes you want to convey a message that is not pleasing, and then you would want to use themes that highlight the unpleasant aspects. That said, most photographs will aim for aesthetic excellence and create a pleasing impression.
The Main Takeaways to Keep in Mind
Composition is both an art and a technique. It creates the right visual impressions by manipulating variables such as the arrangement of various objects, their tone, color and contrasts, and focus.