How To Compose a Photograph

Mastering composition is one of the fundamentals of photography but sometimes we must learn the rules so that we know when to break them. 

One of the Fstoppers readers recently pointed out that we constantly mention composition, but we rarely go into any detail. For this video Patrick sifted through the current trending images on Fstoppers and pulled a few of his favorite images that had interesting compositions. All of the images and photographers we featured are below. I highly suggest checking out their other work because they are wildly talented.

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That last image is great, however, it needs to be straightened.

Nah, it doesn't. You don't need to get hung up on extremely minor technicalities.

Deleted Account's picture

No, it is more dynamic like this

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Big fan of the idea of learning the rules first, and then, and only then learning to break them. That's how we can all stand on the shoulders' of giants!

jurian kriebel's picture

Hi guys, I made the Watch photo on 28:15. It does seem off, but it is indeed a highlight that is not on the bright photo. These 2 images where lit differently, with the darker image going for that moonlight kind of feel. You can also see that in the schadow, which is softer on the dark image.

Also, it was actually sitting on a peace of foamcore, that's the 'shadow' that you see on the left bottom corner. I laid it on there and switched between lights to create the different looks. In post I darkened the background for the dark image. Hope this helps!

Usman Dawood's picture

Lead image made me almost choke on my porridge haha

Stas F's picture

Lee took photography classes at Trump University 😂

Jeff Diffner's picture

Really love Tope's shot. Not quite Fibonacci, but almost a "G" shape in the way your eye is lead to the model's face. Well done.

Deleted Account's picture

I like posts like this, I run them on one of the screens while I'm editing on the others. Occasionally glancing across to see the samples. Muttering to myself, Meh, or Hmmm. Pausing occasionally to watch.
Totally with you on the 'Golden Ratio' snail thing. Literally stick it on anything and it'll fit. I like the 3rds rule, comforting. I like broken rules too, if they work. More often than not a photo that appeals to me, appeals to me, regardless of ratios, divisions, diagonals, etc, etc.
Nice one guys, good banter.

Chase Wilson's picture

This video goes into deep detail regarding the old masters and how composition drove their painting.

I thought some of you guys might appreciate this video on composition -

Apart from the Rule Of Thirds (bows low and reverently,) what does this article tell about composition? Come on! The first image (Trevor Gerzen) is a symphony of light, colour and matching lines/curves in the landscape. The boating image (François Guinaudeau) is a very effective zoom-in-shot image conveying movement and the power of wind in the sail. Francisco Mendoza's Box places the fighter exactly right: it's not only the dominant eye that's in the image centre, it's the only eye, and it's closed and his face half-hidden conveying how he's either so out of it or so focussed that he's ignoring everything around him. The watch image (Jurian Kriebel) is a clever design of matching lines – look at the second hand, the foamcore short edge and the strap buckle; then check the hour hand and the light/dark transition line and finally the foamcore long edge and the strap. Matching directions, and they match because the shot was designed that way, not fitted into a thirds rule, leaving lots of negative space for advertising blah and Lorem ipsum dolor etc.. Irvin Rivera's Gossip Girls is also designed – the left hand girl is looking at her reflection, the right hand girl is gazing into the room, but the middle girl is apparently staring at the guy reflected looking in from the door. It's a clever design which owes nothing to anything so mindless as a Rule Of Thirds!

Now look at the steamed-up glass with a head behind (Antonio Grande) and tell me the light patches at top left and the right hand edge don't distract? I'm sure Ksenia Dubovitz (Ilya Nodia) is a pretty girl but do you really not see the brightly lit, blurry gate frame to left of centre? And does she really have a pole stuck through her neck? Finally, the museum girl is nicely posed with beautiful lighting, but the case intruding from left is a distraction and does she really have a frame growing from the top of her head? These are schoolboy errors.

I don't believe you took enough time looking at these and I don't see where any composition rule kept or broken can save them. This wasn't the Art of Composition, composition isn't defined by thirds. It's light/dark contrasts, patterns and repetition, design and direction, curves and perspective. You need to do some serious learning yourselves. Alternatively, Specsavers are offering 2 for the price of 1 right now.

As Ansel Adams once said, "There are no rules for good photographs. There are just good photographs." Having said that, here is another blog with more down to earth composition discussions. Lots of things go into a photograph that are not specifically about placement rules.