Mastering Composition: Balancing Rules and Intuition

Composition is a fundamental aspect of photography, impacting how viewers perceive and connect with your images. It's the arrangement of elements within the frame, guiding the eye and creating a sense of balance, harmony, or dynamism. However, navigating composition can be challenging, often leading to frustration.

Coming to you from Alex Kilbee with The Photographic Eye, this insightful video explores the complexities of photographic composition and the ongoing struggle between adhering to established rules and relying on intuition. Kilbee delves into the concept of "composition as control," highlighting the comfort that rules and formulas offer, particularly for those new to photography. He references the book "Photographic Composition" by Tom Grill and Mark Scanlon, where the authors emphasize the photographer's ability to direct the viewer's gaze through deliberate placement of lines, shapes, and colors.

However, Kilbee also acknowledges the limitations of strict adherence to rules, arguing that it can stifle creativity and lead to formulaic, soulless images. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the "why" behind compositional choices, exploring the reasons why certain arrangements evoke specific emotions or create a sense of balance or movement. By grasping the underlying principles, photographers can move beyond rigid rules and develop a more intuitive approach to composition.

Kilbee encourages photographers to experiment and find their own comfort level with composition, whether that involves embracing established guidelines or venturing into more uncharted territory. He suggests focusing on whether an image "feels off" rather than striving for absolute perfection, allowing for a more organic and personal approach to creating compelling photographs.

Ultimately, mastering composition is a journey of balancing learned techniques with personal expression. By understanding the principles behind visual language and developing a keen eye for what works, you can create images that resonate with viewers on a deeper level. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Kilbee.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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1 Comment

If you want to see a Master Class in lighting and especially Composition for free, watch the series
" Ripley." It's on Netflix, and it's in Black and white. Even though it's a video, you will quickly see how you can learn still imagery. Fantastic! I will watch it a few more times, maybe even with the sound muted. Enjoy!