Which is More Important in Photography, Lighting or Composition?

Lighting and composition are two of the most fundamental elements of any photography. But, which plays the biggest role?

It's first important to note that no great shot focused purely on one without the other. For a great, impactful image, you need strong composition and strong lighting. This question by Manny Ortiz is focused on the weight of each of these elements instead. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/CFZnujTjVD3

It's difficult to pick one over the other, but if I reframe the question slightly, I think I can answer it. For example, if your image had to have excellent light and average composition, or excellent composition and average light, which would you choose? There's not a great deal in it, but I'd lean towards excellent composition. Creating great light is something that every photographer focuses on from early on in their time with a camera, whereas composition can often be neglected. The issue is muddied for me when I think about street photography, which often incorporates great light into the composition, and that undoes a lot of the interesting discussion to be had!

Do you think light or composition is more important to photography, keeping in mind that they are both unambiguously crucial. Does one edge ahead of the other for you?

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18 Comments

Simon King's picture

Before watching the video, it’s funny I was just speaking about this today:

I’d say lighting. A photo with great lighting but a poor composition I think will appeal more than a great composition in poor lighting.

As I tend to take the camera out at any time that I can, rather than when the best lighting necessarily occurs, I tend to focus more on composition, but I do think the “impact” my photos have suffers a bit because of the lack of interesting light.

Rashad Hurani's picture

The butt is the decisive factor :)

Alex Yakimov's picture

Fast emotion trumps slow analysis (“Thinking, fast and slow”, 2013 by Daniel Kahneman), thus the answer depends on which one of two (lighting or composition) gives the most strong emotional response. I understand the reality is even more nuanced. They both are intertwined. (: Oh well.

Stuart Carver's picture

I think lighting is harder to master, but both equally important.

Justin Sharp's picture

That’s like asking in language, what’s more important: nouns or verbs? A great writer must be able to take all elements of language, understand them, and have control over all of them in order to be an effective writer. To make a good photograph, you must also do the same with foundational elements of photography.

DAVID DESBOIS's picture

As I think :

1) Composition
2) Lightning (and exposition... or maybe the contrary)
3) Focusing (at the right place, and DOF control)

For the third point I don't confuse a focused image or subject, and a tack sharp image or subject.

John Ohle's picture

That is a bit like asking which is more important when driving a car, steering of brakes?

barry cash's picture

Great lighting sets the mood, it always TRUMPS composition! most images can then be cropped to obtain somewhat interesting composition. BUT agreed both are just needed to get the viewers eye.

DAVID DESBOIS's picture

Good point indeed.

Alan Klughammer's picture

If you are working a still life, for example, you will first create your composition, then work with the light (strobes, reflectors, etc) to create the lighting to enhance the composition.

Tim Gallo's picture

only youtubers ask this questions lol.... they need to talk about something, right?

Alan Klughammer's picture

Before watching the video.... there is no bad light, just how you use the available light to influence your composition. If you have flat light, you compose appropriately. And the same with contrasty, or directional, or sunrise, etc.

This is a bit of a non question.

Alan Klughammer's picture

Replying to my own comment after watching the video. Basically he is saying to make/find good lighting, then create your composition. I can agree with that. Unless you are in the studio, where you may create your composition first, then bring in the light.

Pieter Lemmens's picture

No light......no photography!!!!!!!!!!

Florah Williams's picture

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