Photographic composition. Definitive guide.

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Photographic composition. Definitive guide.

It may sound cliché, but the only rule in photography is that there are no rules, however, there are a number of photographic composition guidelines that when well applied will definitely increase the impact of your photographs.

When talking about photographic composition everybody starts thinking of rules to be followed, and if not, there is no way to take good pictures, well not really at all.

The so-called composition techniques will not make your pictures look better if you have no idea what it’s a beautiful picture, and how to take it.

But if you know what you’re doing, such rules will serve you in all of their roles.

The function of all rule is to make your life easier, mainly when we are talking about to catch or direct the viewer’s gaze to the point of interest in a photo.

And one of the first rules that will help you to direct the eye of the viewer is called the rule of thirds.
Composição fotográfica. Barbudo Lyzard by Rix Mascarenhas on - Photographic composition.

Photographic composition: The rule of thirds

This is a rule the most used and known rule in photography, sometimes it is overused, but it works.

The rule of thirds says that the image is more pleasing when its elements of interest are along imaginary lines that divide the image into thirds, horizontally or vertically.

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In fact, it is quite surprising that such a seemingly mathematical rule can be applied to something so diverse and subjective as a photograph.

Placing the most important elements at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines creates a good sense of balance for the viewer, without making the image too visually polluted.

This rule is not just a photographic composition rule, in fact, it can be found in many places, photographs, videos, and paintings.

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The Percistence os Memory – Salvador Dali


In the photo above we can see how Salvador Dali applied well the rule of thirds so well to draw your attention to some points in the painting.

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If you do not care much about painting and painters, which will be strange for a photographer, you’ll also see this rule working in movie scenes or TV series.

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In the above scene, we have a classic scene from the movie Seven – 7, where we can see again the power of the rule of thirds.

But not everything is so easy the rule of thirds, and it has its limitations.

Imagine the situation, an image there is no special object or point for which you want to draw the viewer´s attention.

Although this kind of situations is rare, will be there situations where you´ll not able to use such a rule.

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However, the “spirit of this rule” still can be applied in a way that gives the picture a sense of balance, without making the object appear too static and unchanging.

Photographic composition: Balance

Putting the main subject off center, just like the rule of thirds, creates a more interesting image, but it can leave a void in the scene.

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So it’s very common to put a counterpoint in order side to create an image with more balanced.

There are two types of balanced compositions, formal and informal.

Formal balance.

The first is formal equilibrium, also called symmetric equilibrium or just formal balance.

As the name suggests, it happens when individuals, one or more, are identical or have some similarities are put in the frame.

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Normally, they a repeated symmetrically on each side of the frame.

Informal balance.

The second type, informal balance or so-called asymmetric balance is when one or more different elements make up the balance and are on each side of the frame.

Informal balancing is less obvious because the subjects are not uniform.

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A well-made image using informal balance can be more attractive to the viewer compared to a symmetrical composite image.

Photographic composition: Golden ratio and Fibonacci spiral.

The Golden ratio is a powerful tool for composition, not just photographic composition, for centuries we can find evidence of its use in paintings and architecture.

It is a construction principle based on the ratio of 1 to 1,618. Acclaimed as “the perfect number,”

The golden ratio can help you create images with a strong composition that will draw viewers into your picture.

Often the golden ratio is confused with the Fibonacci spiral, they are different, but they share a lot of similarities.

There are many interpretations of how we can use the golden ratio in photography.

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Two of the most common interpretations of photographic compositions are the Phi Grid and the Fibonacci Spiral.

It is said that around the 12th century a mathematician named Leonardo Fibonacci devised a series of numbers that could produce an aesthetically pleasing composition.

From this concept, he created the well-known Fibonacci spiral. The Fibonacci spiral was created from a series of squares using the Fibonacci numbers, with the length of each square being a Fibonacci number.

In this way, applying the Fibonacci spiral, as a guide to the photographic composition, we can arrive at more harmonic and balanced results, according to Leonardo Fibonacci’s concept of stretching.

The most impressive about this is that it’s really functional, just like the rule of thirds, and we can say that it works very well.

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There are many rumors that famous works of art such as the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, and The Birth of Venus, among others, have been composed with the help of golden ratio.

Another interpretation of the golden ratio is the Phi Grid, which may be called a simplified Fibonacci spiral.

The Phi grid can be very similar to the rule of thirds, but it has a very important difference.

Instead of dividing the frame into equal 1: 1: 1 thirds, is applied the golden ratio, to divide the space, the result is a grid of 1: 0.618: 1.

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This results in a set of lines that are much more centralized when it’s compared with the rule of thirds.

There is no right or wrong version of the Golden Ratio, each one of them will work better at any time.

Phi grade, for example, is a great choice for landscape photography.

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Colors in photographic composition

The color is one of the most obvious elements of composition. Everyone knows that intense colors make people notice their images more easily.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many sunflower photos out there? The color is the reason.

Color has some functions in photographs. First, color holds the attention of the viewer.

And one of the ways to pass some sensation to the viewer of your images is also defined by the color, here we call the mood of the photo.

The color is so important in the photographic composition that many photographers seek to use it throughout the length of their compositions, both to capture the attention of the spectator and to define the climate, mood, of the photo.

Hold attention

Using color to hold attention is often quite effective. Generally, what is needed is a saturated or intense color.

This type of color tends to attract the attention of the viewer and guide it to the area of ​​color, where it can be placed the subject.

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In addition, color tends to hold the viewer’s attention for an extended period of time.

When the viewer’s eyes want to leave that region the color tends to bring the attention back.

The second way to use color is to attract the attention of the viewer to a mixture of contrasting colors.

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An example of this approach would be a color fading image, where there is a combination of red, orange and yellow.


Setting up the mood through the use of color tends to be a more subtle application of color than when color is used to capture the attention.

However, this does not mean that this artifice is less powerful.

Different colors cause different modes. And it can be seen in a lot of places, so try google Color and moods and you will find an enormous amount of articles talking about that.

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Patterns are widely used in photography, these can be repeating graphic elements, colors, shades and shapes.

They can be aligned or repeated to create the sense o depth in your image, and it is a powerful tool.


Shapes are considered one of the most useful types of patterns in photography, so triangles, circles, and repeating frames will always be friends when composing a photo.

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In situations where they are expected the repetitive patterns can give a calm sensation to your photograph.

We can even digress here and say that because the viewer already expects what will happen, even in his subconscious, repetition brings a counterpoint to this chaotic world, and because of this, we have the feeling of peace and comfort.

A different approach to avoid the monotony of repetition patterns is to purposely break the pattern.

Breaking the flow of the pattern disturbs your rhythm and can add more drama to a photograph.

Such disturbance may be natural or may be manipulated by the photographer by introducing an element of a contrasting color, or a different shape and texture, etc.

Even removing one of the elements that make up the pattern can work well to break its rhythm.

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Guidelines or leading lines

Composition and good photography always hang out together.

Anyone can (with practice) perfect the skills and techniques to take a well-exposed photo.

But it will always be your talent and how you see the world that will set whether or not your photographs stood out in the crowd.

When we talk about the technical part, shutter speed or aperture, everything can be taught and learned easily.

But the game changes completely when we speak of photographic composition.

And as we’ve seen from the beginning of this article these “rules” will help you improve this artist side and help you compose better and nicer photos.

And this our next technique of photographic composition is one of the most important when you trying to up your game of composition.

Guidelines, or leading lines, is an undervalued composition technique, although it is the most effective to “rule” to catch your viewer´s eye.

It is so simple to use and so effective that it always impresses me!

In order to make it work, just find a few lines and put your main subject somewhere in this lines.

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Guidelines are very strong elements in photography especially if combined with other composition elements.

Using long and relatively complex lines helps a lot to direct the viewer’s eyes to the point you want them to look.

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Photographic Composition: Framing

What do you do with that photo or photos that you like a lot? How would you say, you have to “frame” right?

Well, and why not frame in a different way?

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We can say that this kind of framing, which we call framing as well, is one of the most efficient photographic composition techniques to draw the viewer’s attention to the point where you want him/her to look.

Photographs made with this type of composition will always have a great weight and will help the image to gain evidence.

You can manage the frame to give context to your image as it creates a beautiful sense of depth.

Another very interesting thing about this type of composition technique is to sharpen the imagination of the viewer, making his imagination try to unravel what is behind the frame that frames the photo.

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Photographic Composition: Depth

Another one of the various techniques of photographic composition that you can use and that has a very nice effect on your images is to use the depth of field in order to isolate the object, in focus or out of it.

Well said that I think there is only one thing left to do, put it into practice.

Get your gear out, yes I´m copping Matt Granger moto, photograph, remember what you read here and put it into practice.

Do not forget that all rules can be broken, and in the end, what matters is a beautiful job.

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