Composition is a complicated topic. It's easy to throw out the Rule of Thirds because talking about things like balance, rhythm, and focus can get overwhelming but, if you stop at the Rule of Thirds, you could be robbing your images of complexity
As simply as I can state it, composition is the arrangement of visual elements within a frame. There is no rule for what composition an artist chooses so long as it serves the artist's vision. Often, there are several elements at play in a composition and, if the photographer is paying close attention and understands those elements, they can be exploited to strengthen the image.
In the photographs below, the rule of thirds does come into play, but much more than that is happening in these compositions.
This series of photographs was created for Boulder, Colorado designer Dacy Luneburg, who hails from Bujumbura, Burundi. The location was chosen specifically for the African artwork in the room, which played an integral part of this designer's story, so it was important to include as much of the space as possible. For that reason, I chose a wide-angle lens and open compositions.
An open composition is where elements from the image break the frame and move into or out of it. Those elements can be distracting if they're not included carefully and used purposefully, and could potentially draw the eye away from the focal point.
When deciding whether to include elements within the frame, here are things I had to consider: do the elements fit the vision or message of the photograph? Are the colors, textures, shapes, and forms of the elements cohesive? Because it was important for the viewer's eye to stay engaged, I needed the elements to act almost like a frame, as a part of the story but not distracting from the main character. As a result, the elements that were included serve to add to the story, while also helping to direct the viewer's eye.
While choosing the angle, I needed to position myself to show the garment while using aspects of the scene to draw the eye toward the model. With the model's pose, the direction of the garment, and the way it connects to the elements in the room, the viewer's eye moves exactly the way I want it to.
What comes to mind at the mention of leading lines? A railroad track, or a path leading off toward the horizon? If that's all leading lines are to you, you're doing it wrong. Or, at least, not taking advantage of their full potential. A leading line is simply a line that draws the viewers eye into the composition and toward the point of interest. In the image below, the model, outfit, and angle have been positioned to cause as many lines as possible to draw the eye in to the models face, where her pose can bring the eye right back into a loop. This keeps the eye moving through the image and retains interest as well as highlights the point of interest: the model and lingerie design.
If the image had been composed so that the lines lead away from the focal point or out of the frame with nothing to draw the eye back, the impact would have been greatly diminished. The viewer's eye would have nowhere to rest, and the sense of movement wouldn't have felt balanced.
These examples are fairly straightforward and, although more could be said, the thing to note is that composition is incredibly important to any visual medium. Composition gives the image shape, depth, it tells the viewer how to read the photograph, and influences their reaction the scene. A composition can create a sense of balance or a feeling of tension. Learning and understanding composition is a sure-fire way to strengthen your work and something that should be a goal for any photographer who desires to create compelling images.