Compose yourself

Updated: Sep 7


One of the most important things to learn, no matter what camera you're holding is composition. Framing an image in such a way as to appeal to a wide audience.


There are at least four simple guidelines to composing an image and if you follow even one of them, you'll create a balanced and well composed image. They are:

1. Rule of thirds

2. Golden Ratio

3. Depth of field and leading lines

4. Telling a story

5. Gestalt Theory


Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is applied by aligning subjects within a four line grid, so that the intersecting points on that grid highlight the features in the image.

The example below shows how the intersecting points and lines highlight the main features of the image (i.e. the statue on the left). Notice the other vertical and horizontal lines too and how they follow the lines of the structure.

The Rule of Thirds principal doesn’t always work out however, especially when taking head shots.

To overcome this, think about turning the camera to portrait instead of horizontal (or vice versa) and moving around the subject to get the best balanced outcome possible.

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio has been used in art as a powerful composition tool for centuries. It is a design principle based on the 1 to 1.618 ratio and is hailed as the

perfect number.

The Golden Ratio can assist in creating images that have a strong composition and the reasoning for this is simple; the Golden Ratio allows for a composition that is perfectly balanced. We naturally prefer to look at an image that is balanced and harmonized and the Golden Ratio provides this. In Layman's terms, its about capturing an abundance of information at any one third of the frame and slowly, systematically lessening the information the remaining two thirds of the frame. I've posted an example below.

Depth of Field and leading lines

A photograph is two dimensional (height x width), but to provide an illusion of depth, a technique called Depth of Field and/or Leading Lines are used.

These techniques assist in making an image appear three dimensional. Its done by blurring backgrounds or foregrounds or using objects to make arbitrary lines that lead away into the distance. The technique mimics the focus of our own human eye giving the illusion of distance or depth.

Telling a Story

When taking photographs, the name of the game is to tell a story. You don't have to be a journalist to do this, all you need is to look at what you want to capture from another's perspective.

Think about the imagine you would want to see if you were shown the photograph.

Telling a story is about capturing the essence of a scene so that it can be interpreted easily. This is no easy feat, but a simple rule is to provide enough information in the subject and its surroundings to make it easily understood. Take a look at the title image of this post as an example of trying to tell a story through the images you take.


Gestalt Theory

Gestalt Theory evolved in the 1920s to explain some of the ways in which people perceive the world around them. In essence, it provides an insight into the pattern recognition process that occurs when people look at photographs.

The principals are as follows:

  1. Proximity - A pair or group of objects that are close to each other are more likely to be perceived as belonging together.

  2. Similarity - Objects that are similar in shape and size or colour are seen as belonging together

  3. Closure - The mind completes shapes that don't exist in the image. For example, take a look at the top image; you mind automatically fills in the gap of where the surfer is placed in the water without needing to actually see.

  4. Simplicity - The mind perceives parallel lines that are close together as a single image

  5. Continuation - The mind assumes lines extend beyond the edges of the frame

  6. Segregation - objects, people must stand out from the frame to be recognisable. That way, they can be identified easily even if they are small in the frame. This is a useful principal to define scale, especially in a landscape.

  7. Emergence - Not noticing something in a photo when you first take a look at it, but slowly it becomes apparent after a period of study. Like a cat hiding among the bushes or face hiding on a book shelf.


Have a go at these composition types and see which one suits your style.


Happy snapping!


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©2018 by Kathryn Nobbs. Devonport, Auckland

Tel: +64 27 5284566

eMail: Kathrynnobbsphotography@gmail.com

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