10 Compositional Theories of Still Photography“There is a vast difference between taking a picture and making a photograph.” – Robert Heinecken
Rule of Thirds Rather than place the subject in the center of the photo, imagine a grid that splits the frame into thirds both vertically and horizontally. Then, place the subject along those gridlines. The intersections of the lines are especially compelling places to position your subject.Portrait of Tom Kobayashi at Manzanar(1943) Ansel Adams
Leading Lines Lines that guide a viewer’s eyes around, or through, the photograph are called leading lines.Scanno (1953) Henri Cartier-Bresson
Monks Along the River Arno, Florence (1935) Alfred Eisenstaedt
Strong Diagonal A strong diagonal is a form of a leading line. It can transform a boring composition into a dynamic one.Female Welders, Gary, IN (1942) Margaret Bourke-
In the Waiting Room of the Union Station (1943) Jack Delano
Point of View Pictures do not always need to be taken at eye level. Moving the camera above, or below, the subject can create a more interesting, dynamic photograph. This is a good way to transform an ordinary subject into an extraordinary picture.Sisters of Charity (1956) David Moore
Framing One way to make your subject stand out is by finding and using a natural frame within the composition. The frame helps draw the viewer’s eye to the main subject. Framing can also be used to create a sense of depth in a photograph, or to provide a context for the photograph.Cabaret L’Enfer, Boulevard de Clichy, Paris (1952) Robert Doisneau
Simplify Try to eliminate unnecessary items from your composition – they will only distract the viewer. Sometimes, the most simple of objects make a beautiful photograph.Pepper (1930) Edward Weston
Depth of Field Depth of field is the distance within a photograph that is in focus. A shallow depth of field leaves just a small portion of the photograph in focus, while the rest remains blurry. Shallow depth of field can be used to draw the viewer’s eye to the main subject. It also can compensate for a distracting background. One way to achieve a shallow depth of field is to use the macro function onCome Alice,Julia Margaret Cameron your camera.
A photograph taken with the macro function, producing a shallow depth of
Strong Foreground When taking a photo, particularly landscape photos, that have a large depth of field, a strong foreground element can help bring the viewer into the photograph, as well as provide a sense of depth.Canyon de Chelly(1904) Edward S. Curtis
Richard Nixon Leaving the White House (1974) Annie Leibovitz
Fill the Frame It is not always necessary for the entire subject to be included in the composition. Sometimes it is more effective, and interesting, to crop the edges of your main subject.False Hellebore (1926) Imogen Cunningham
Active Space It is important when you are capturing a photograph of an action, that you leave space between the side of the frame and the subject. If you do not do this, the picture will feel unbalanced.Walter Iooss Jr.
Composition 1. Rule of Thirds 2. Leading Lines 3. Strong Diagonal 4. Point of View 5. Framing 6. Simplify 7. Depth of Field 8. Strong Foreground 9. Fill the Frame 10. Active SpaceTuskegee Airman (1945) Toni Frissell