Composition refers to how a photograph is composed: the subject of the photo, its environment, how it is framed and angled, and how other objects in frame are utilized. The composition of photography is affected by a myriad of factors, and a photographer can focus on any number of these factors (or none at all) when composing a photograph.
Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a guideline for photographic composition. The premise of the “rule” is that photos should be composed as if split into thirds both horizontally and vertically. When lines are overlaid onto a photo splitting it in thirds, a rectangle is formed in the middle. It is often suggested that a photo should be laid out to have the focal point be near one of the corners of this rectangle. Such a layout tends to create more tension and energy in a scene than when the focal point is near the center.
Leading lines is a technique used to draw the focus of the viewer using lines or directionality found in the scene. For example, a photo taken when pointing down a straight road will often draw the eye towards the horizon, where the road and road markings point.
Movement and Motion
Photos can be taken with the intent of portraying motion (or lack thereof) in the scene. Many techniques can be used to emphasize the motion of all or part of the photo. Shutter speed can be used to create a “freezing of time” effect with a very fast shutter speed, or a slow shutter speed used to introduce motion blur. A photo composed of multiple exposures can show the movement of an object as it travels through the scene.
Color composition can be used to create vibrance in a scene, evoke a specific emotion, or draw attention to a specific point or points. The eye of the viewer will be drawn to a colorful object in a neutral colored environment. Photos can often be made to evoke feelings of warmth and joy when the overall color balance of the photo is on the warm side. Conversely, a photo might feel somber when the colors are cooler.
Balance and Symmetry
The “visual weight” of a photo is affected by the composition’s balance and symmetry. A photo that has most or all of its detail to one side or corner can often appear lopsided and can create tension. Similarly, a photo that is extremely symmetrical might have a sterile or unnatural feeling to it. Photographs can be composed to intentionally evoke such feelings.
Angle and Viewpoint
The viewpoint from which photos are taken have an effect on the composition. Changing the angle of the photo can be used to change the background of the scene. Using an extreme angle can make the subject appear larger or smaller in the scene. Extreme angles can also create depth in a photo.
Crop and Framing
Perhaps one of the most important aspect of composition is what is in the frame. Specifically, how much space the subject takes within the frame. The crop and framing of a photo can emphasize or deemphasize the subject. The aspect ratio of a photo also has an effect. Aspect ratio is the ratio between the height and width of the image. A landscape photo is an image that is wider than it is tall, and a portrait photo is taller than it is wide.
“Framing” is a technique where the subject of the photo is encompassed by other objects in the scene, creating a frame of the subject within the photo.
Space and Complexity
The number of objects and amount of space surrounding the subject of a photo can be used to alter the composition. Showing more or less space around the subject can show more or less context. Fewer objects in the frame create heightened visual impact for the objects that remain. Although creating a “busy” photo can also be intentional, and might suite the purpose of photographer.