photography composition basics

photography composition basics What is composition? This is to explain the photography composition basics – Everyone talks about it in the photography field and everyone is mentioned things like rule […]

photography composition basics

What is composition?

This is to explain the photography composition basics – Everyone talks about it in the photography field and everyone is mentioned things like rule of thirds

I would like to get a little deeper than that and explain what the rules of composition are, and why are there considered rules. Composition is the combination of several elements based on a specific criteria or rule to make up a whole

The composition is the whole of few elements working together to achieve a greater result than the pure sum of elements

Compositions can be visual (arts, photography), can refer to music ( sounds combined to create harmony), or even a food recipe (ingredients to work together to be tastier than the sum of them). In photography the composition relates to arrangements of various elements in the picture. The composition is important as it makes the difference between 2 images that can contain the same elements, however we like one more than the other. Why and what we like as human beings? What is beautiful for our eyes and our brains?

Beauty is a very wide concept and it can vary for each of us, age, culture education etc

However based on observation and history, the core essence of beauty is proportion and not any proportion, but the one we can find in nature all around us. Proportion is the ratio between big and small, high and tall, wide and narrow, width and length, but not any ratio. We tend to like the symmetry, rhythm and repetition, and one golden proportion that is all around us. These ratios are everywhere obvious or hidden and the human brain is subconsciously reacts, and finds comfort in seeing them. This is how I would define beauty

 photography composition basics will help you master the result of your pictures

Let’s explore these rules a little bit

–       Symmetry – equal combination around one axis – what we have at right, the same thing is mirrored at left. Symmetry is everywhere in life – most of the beings on earth are symmetrical. A beautiful women is always symmetrical

–       Repetition – same element repeated several times – I would suggest at least 3 in order to stand as a rule.

–       Rhythm – repetition of a group of elements

One special mention goes to the golden rule of composition which is the golden proportion ratio – Fibonnaci’s number

It has been observed that there is ration found everywhere – If we measure an average of dimensions between top of head to belly button and belly button to the ground to all human beings – the average will end up being something close to an exact number – 1.618. it is amazing that fact that the golden ration can be also mathematically being expressed in a formula that makes sense – if I have 2 different entities (numbers, sounds, dimensions etc) one smaller and one bigger. The relationship between the small one and the big one is similar of the big  one to the sum of both our elements.

That translates into a/b=b/(a+b)

Without getting more technical than this , it has been proven that this ratio is exact and it can be found all around us. The best proportion of human face will contain this ratio between , forehead and face, eye position on the face ears , mouth etc. It has been mathematically measured what we find a beautiful face. This aspect leads to the most used composition rule – so called the rule of thirds where everything must be split in 3 and locate the subject to one third on one side leaving 2 thirds on the other side. I would like mention the most important fact is that in reality the rule of thirds is a result of the golden ratio which would be close enough to make it as a rule of thumb for  everyone.Rule of thirds is the relationship between one and one and a half. This is basically the rounded version of the golden ration – the relationship between 1 and 1.618.Having explained this in detail, we will just stick with the rule of thirds for easier understanding and use for everyone

So for our photography purpose we can establish the following rules:

–       Symmetry

reflecting peace and order. the image below the subject is in the middle of the image suggesting peace and order. SYmmetry is beauty. symmetry is everywhere including the human body. A face without symmetry is not beatiful

photography composition basics symmetry

–       Rhythm and repetition – reflecting time

repetition is defined by minimum 3 elements so our eyes can visually establish a rule.


–       Rule of thirds – reflecting nature

having the subject to one third form one side of the picture and one third from the bottom or top, will make the images visually interesting on a subconscious level

rule of thirds

After paying attention to these things you will notice that unconsciously we like these rules. Why, because they give us order, we know them , we do not fear them.

Not obeying these rules can have the effect of tension, fear of the unknown, unbalance. That can have good or bad results.


Depending on each of us, we can appreciate the order but not everyone is the same. Playing safe is obeying the rules, getting ourselves outside is a risk



About Christian Tudor

professional photographer, main editor at Academy of Photography and