How to fake it: What is Composition in Photography?

In our How to Fake it series, we seek to simplify art topics into bite-sized nuggets to enable you with the tools to be an art conversationalist.

For this ‘How to fake it”, we explore the world of Composition in Photography and show you how composition in a photograph can influence the subject and perceived meaning.


Definition of Composition

“Composition” describes placement of various objects and elements in a photograph.
Composition is a way of guiding the viewer’s eye towards the most important features of your photograph, and sometimes – in a very specific order. 

Good composition can help create a masterpiece even out of the dullest objects and subjects, and in the plainest of environments. On the other hand, when incorrectly composed and imbalanced, a photograph can seem confusing and uninteresting to the viewer.

Composition can be broken down into the following:

1. Rules of Thirds
2. Balance
3. Lines
4. Symmetry and Patterns
5. Viewpoint and Framing.


Rule of Thirds

Imagine that your image is divided into 9 equal segments by 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines. The rule of thirds positions the most important elements in your scene along these lines, or at the points where they intersect. Doing so will add balance and interest to your photo.

Lighthouse with rule of thirds grid

Notice how the building and horizon are aligned along rule-of-thirds lines. Image by Trey Ratcliff.


Balancing Elements

Placing your main subject off-centre, as with the rule of thirds, creates a more interesting photo, but it can leave a void in the picture which can make it feel empty. You can balance the “weight” of your subject by including another object of lesser importance to fill the space.

Road sign with building behind

Here, the visual “weight” of the road sign is balanced by the building on the other side of the shot. Image by Shannon Kokoska.


Leading Lines

How you place lines in your composition, can affect the way we view the image, either pulling us into the picture, towards the subject, or on a journey “through” the picture. There are many different types of lines – straight, diagonal, curvy, zigzag, radial and more,  and each can be used to enhance a photo’s composition.
Diagonal lines in particular can be useful in creating drama in your image. They can also add a sense of depth, or a feeling of infinity.


Road winding through mountains

The road in this photo draws your eye through the scene. Image by Pierre Metivier.


Symmetry and Patterns

Symmetry and patterns, both natural and man-made, can make for very eye-catching compositions, particularly in situations where they are not expected. Another great way to use them is to break the symmetry or pattern in some way, introducing tension and a focal point to the scene.

Symmetry and patterns can be visually compelling as it suggests harmony and rhythm, giving us a feeling of order and peace. 


Chapel entrance

The symmetry of this chapel is broken by the bucket in the bottom right corner. Image by Fabio Montalto.



Before photographing your subject, take time to think about where you will shoot it from. Our viewpoint has a massive impact on the composition of our photo, and as a result it can greatly affect the message that the shot conveys. 
Viewpoint is not just limited to high, low and eye-level of course – you can also radically change the perception of an object by shooting it from a distance or up close.


Man sitting on beach photographed from above

The unusual viewpoint chosen here creates an intriguing and slightly abstract photo. Image by ronsho.



The world is full of objects which make perfect natural frames, such as trees, archways and holes. By placing these around the edge of the composition, you help to isolate the main subject from the outside world. The result is a more focused image which draws your eye to the main point of interest.

Lake framed by hills either side

Here, the surrounding hills form a natural frame, and the piece of wood provides a focal point. Image by Sally Crossthwaite.


These guidelines will help you take more compelling photographs, lending them a natural balance, drawing attention to the important parts of the scene, and/or leading the viewer’s eye through the image.



Check out the photography works we have on our site, and see if you can spot any examples of the composition that we have mentioned above!


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