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Why Composition is One of the Most Important Aspects of Image Making

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

It is said that learning composition is an essential part of learning photography, and that composition can determine the difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ photograph.

A well composed photograph is more pleasing to the eye so the photographer has to make some decisions in order to get the composition right.

There are some rules about composition, such as the ‘Rule of Thirds’, which are referred to in most articles on composition, and there are those who advocate using these rules to get the best compositions.

Others, such as Michael Freeman, author of a number of best-selling photography books, wonders why the rule of thirds gets repeated so often, “and never with any examples that are worth looking at”. (Fifty Paths to Creative Photography, 2016)

As with most things, the best position might be to be aware of the rule but not to follow it slavishly.

While learning all we can about photography techniques and having decent equipment are important considerations, none of these will matter if the shot is sloppy.

I have too many photographs, taken in a hurry, which have distractions in the background, unwanted objects taking up space in the image, unused space, lack of balance, or many other “blemishes” that make these bad photographs.

Correcting these faults doesn’t come down to using correct aperture or shutter speed, it comes down to the photographer’s eye; how the photographer composes the image, the decisions made about what to take in and what to leave out. This ability to compose a visually pleasing image is not something that can be learned overnight but rather is the result of lots of hands-on practice at taking photographs.

I wanted to capture an image of people coming and going along the promenade at Bray, Co. Wicklow. I failed to notice the rubbish bin on the right hand side, and now that is all I see when I look at the image!

My reading on the subject of composition has yielded numerous good ideas for improving my images. I have begun to incorporate ideas such as shooting from different angles – looking upwards and taking a shot, shooting at ground level, taking both landscape and portrait views, shooting close up, shooting at the same level as the subject, shooting 'through' something else or 'framing' the picture. These techniques will hopefully train my eye to start looking for the best way to take a shot.

I took lots of different shots of the same scene to try to capture an image I liked.

One of the most crucial aspects of being creative in photography is being true to your own style, being authentic. Sure, other photographers will have taken the same shots using similar techniques, but it is important to tell your own story as a photographer, make your own decisions as to how you want an image to look, have your own vision.

Experimenting with your own vision may at first result in shots that are not so pleasing, but with perseverance, and as part of the photographer’s true vision, they can begin to take on their real beauty.

In some senses composition is about the decisions that are made when the photographer is about to take or is taking a shot.

But in another sense composition can be determined even before the shoot, by the vision which the photographer is working from, how this shot or series of shots will fit into that vision, how they will be part of a theme.

Whenever or however the decisions are made, it is clear that most good shots don’t just happen, they are a result of planning, perseverance, time and effort, and maybe a small sprinkling of good luck!

I keep going back to the same spot spot to try and capture a good photograph of the swans. As I learn more photography skills I am trying to improve the composition of the image.

And I need to do some learning about image editing!

I like the simplicity of the images below. Sometimes composition doesn't have to be complicated and if the image is pleasing to the eye (particularly my own!) it will be a success, at least in the beginning stages of photography. They may not be technically brilliant (I haven't even attempted Lightroom yet!) but they have that quality that I am looking for.

Do you have a composition technique you would like to share?

If you found this post useful, please feel free to share it.

1 Comment

Oct 26, 2018

A very honest view of your progress on the quest for the perfect photo. You will teach me something about photography yet. ;-) Thanks Willow.

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