On Composition: Concepts

I’ll be writing several series on the different components of a quality photograph, and I’ll be starting with composition as the most basic element to an image (so please look out for future posts on lighting, editing, cropping, etc.).

Before exploring what it means to create a good composition, it’s important to understand what “composition” means and how it’s related to photography. Let me bring in my friend Steve Jobs for y’all:

Design is a funny word: some people think design mean how it looks, but of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.”

Wise words — composition (as a type of design) is the backbone to a good photo, it’s what brings a sense of purpose to an image, what makes a picture of a yogurt you’re obsessed with actually become something interesting:

This is how I feel about it

Don’t you just want to eat it? Or at least look at it for a good thirty seconds because it’s so visually appealing? There are a number of things at work here that are causing this sudden sensation, and many of them have to do with achieving good composition.

The off-center focus gives the image a feeling of depth, at once drawing the viewer in to peer into the little glass jar and also gaze across the table to admire the subtle view from the window. Depth is valuable in a photo because it morphs the 2-D image into a 3-D experience that can convey a sense of time and space.

A good photograph captures a moment, rather than just a scene.

There are also several strong lines that split the photo into sections in a way that is entices the eye: the edge of the table echoes the Rule of Thirds (more on that here!), and the shadow across the table subtly creates another third. Contrasting the solid lines are the playful curves of the spoon and rim of the jar; a good photograph will often contrast shapes in order to create visual interest.

Finally, the colors and shadows really make the image pop. The rich golden wrapper contrasts strongly with the muted background, and the shadows add a whole new dimension to the photo, creating lights and darks that are beautiful to look at.

Of course, I wasn’t calculating all of the detail when I took the shot. Really I was trying to claim one jar of yogurt before my brother ate the rest, and anxiously, I snapped a photo in order to preserve some kind of memory of my favorite food. Eventually all the rules and non-rules of good composition had embedded themselves in my brain, so a well-composed shot was just a matter of two quick takes.

I hope this was a good introduction to the concept of composition, & please check back for part two of the series where I’ll introduce a few classic composition techniques! Good composition is really just a matter of practice, and using a few techniques to guide you makes all the difference.

Love always,


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