Learning Composition

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

This series will include posts and videos that can be 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.

Let’s get started, in visual arts such as painting, sculpture, and of course photography, composition is the placement of the visual elements of a work of art. Usually the placement of these 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 — 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, present a vision, or whatever the goal of creating that particular piece of art is. 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 artwork, composition is the visual language you have to express your vision.

Good composition is something in my opinion not “totally” 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 ones and extensively known among visual artists and photographers like the “Rules of Thirds”, “The Use of Negative Space”, or “Leading Lines”, and more that I’m sure you have heard about it. Nevertheless, there are much more than these rules that you need to know (and practice about composition, that hopefully, we’ll start demystifying in this series.

At the beginning applying all these rules can be 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. It’s like learning to speak a new language, so first your learn the language rules, and then it is 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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