Elements of Composition

What do we mean by 'Composition'?


Composition means you get to choose


You have control over what's going to be in your picture.




You do this by arranging the things you see when you look through the viewfinder.

You have to think about what to leave out, what to include and where to put it.

Which is a snapshot? Which one did the photographer take the time to make a nice composition?


Here's a different point of view (same flower).

Rule #1: Think before you shoot

don't be in a hurry!

There's more than one picture in any place.

Examine both close-up and far away. Look at things from different angles. "Work the Area"!



By moving around, left and right, up and down, you can determine what will be in the picture and where it will be located.


THINK! Eliminate distractions

Move to the left or right to get a less distracting background

THINK! Choose your point of view

Look Up!

treetopsEifel tower

Look down!

balloonEmpire State

Get closer (zoom in). See how it looks from further away (zoom out). Which do you like better?

Provence farprovence close

PAY ATTENTION! Be aware of the background

Make sure there are no distracting things. Move around and look from a different point of view or wait until the subject moves away from the distracting element. Sometimes you have to be patient and wait until the picture composes itself!

bike1 bike2

Frame your subject

THINK! Will it look better as a horizontal or vertical?

Which one do you prefer?

amalfi horizAmalfi vertical

THINK! where in the frame will your subject look best?

It often makes a more interesting picture to put you main subject off-center. The "rule of thirds" divides your picture like a tic-tac-toe grid, creating 4 intersecting points where your main subject can be placed for emphasis.

rule of thirdsthirds

LOOK! Check the corners and edges of the frame

Avoid clipping - chopping off feet, arms, etc. Before you click the shutter look at the sides and corners of the frame.


Avoid unwanted things partially sticking into the frame.

cherniss2no shoe

Think about lines

Lines can be real or implied (imagined).


Leading lines: Virtual (imaginary) lines that draw you to the main subject.


Diagonal lines can often have more impact than vertical or horizontal lines.


Not all lines are striaght. Watch for curved lines. The 'S - Curve' is often a pleasing element in a picture.

The railroad tracks are real lines. The flow in the onion picture comes from implied or imaginary lines.


Think about Shapes

Interesting shapes can make a pleasing composition.



If part of your picture looks 'empty' then it might be out of balance. Is everything all on one side? Is there anything on the other side to balance it out?








before you click





Most important Rule: Have Fun!

Don't get too serious! Take the time to enjoy what you are doing.