Learning Composition

This is the beginning of a series of publications in which, from different angles and perspectives,  I’ll address the topic of composition. Hopefully I will provide you with a solid understanding of what visual composition is about as well as with the basis to start applying the principles of composition to your own imagery.

Now, this series will include posts and videos that can be easily located by using the tag “learning-composition” either in the search box above or by directly clicking on the tag name at the bottom of this post.

So, let’s get started. In visual arts such as graphic design, painting, photography, etc. composition is the placement of the visual elements of a work of art, as distinct from the subject of work. Usually the placement of elements is made according to certain generally accepted rules of compositions that should be seen as guidelines on how to use the elements of art (a.k.a. element of design or formal elements) such as lines, shapes, color, texture, tone, form, space, and depth.

Particularly in photography the goal of composition is to guide the viewer’s attention to the most important elements of the work — usually the subject. Many times we can use composition to guide the viewer’s eye in a particular sequence in order to tell a story. In my opinion, a good composition can turn an everyday scene or object into an excellent piece of art, same as a bad composition can completely ruin an image of the most beautiful subject.

The goal of composition should be not just to present a “pleasant” image as some people believe. In my opinion, composition must be used to convey feelings, tell stories, etc. You can use “non-conventional” composition to make your audience feel uncomfortable, to convey angry, to express strong feelings, to create tension, etc. so, hopefully you get the point. As you can probably see now, whatever goal you have for a particular image, composition is the visual language you have to express your vision.

Good composition is something in my opinion not possible to define. There are however rules of composition that are in essence principles that can be applied in order to express your vision. Some of these rules are very common and known among visual artists and photographer like the “Rules of Thirds”, “The Use of Negative Space”, or “Leading Lines”. However, there are much more than these rules that you need to know.

At the beginning applying all these rules can seem overwhelming, especially to novice photographers, but as you mature as photographer — and you practice! — these rules will become part of  your “photographic instinct”, so you will start applying them without really thinking about it.  In my opinion it’s like learning to speak a new language, so first your learn the language rules, then it´s a matter of practicing, so over time and practice you’ll master it!

The next post I’ll start discussing some of the most common rules of composition. So, keep in touch.

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