“Rules intimidate, Tools on the other hand liberate” I don’t know where that came from, I think I read it somewhere, but I tend to agree with it. Talking about rules, let us today discuss about some “Rules of Composition” or should I say “Tools of Composition” 😉 .
Technically speaking, “Composition means placement of Subjects, Objects and Elements in a frame in such a way that helps in directing the viewer’s eye towards the most important part of the Image”. While that may be technically correct, we as photographers are emotional beings and personally for me, composing an Image would act as a tool to convey the feelings and emotions that I felt when I was at the location, most of all composition, gives each and every one of us the opportunity to present before the world what we saw and felt through our own eyes and unique perspective.
So in a way when we say Compositional Tools or Rules, it’s not a Law like “Gravity”, which when broken could result in some serious consequences 🙂 , so relax, they are basically guidelines which have been proven time and again to help us convey our emotions and feelings, via images in the simplest and easiest way possible.
1. Shoot at eye level
I have written a full blog about the importance of shooting at eye level, it basically means that instead of shooting from up, one goes to the eye level of the subject and shoots the subject from there. Shooting at eye level ensures the background is far off and the subject pops in the frame.
2. Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds basically says that, Imagine dividing your image into 9 equal segments by drawing 2 Vertical and 2 Horizontal lines spaced equally, the points at which these lines intersect (4 of them) would be the points wherein your main subject should be placed in the frame for a strong and pleasing composition. Though this may seem as a cliché, but this very basic and simple rule can make for some very powerful compositions and with practice it’s relatively easy to visualize and implement in the field. Most cameras now a days offer this grid on screen and can be used when shooting on the field. The same grid is also available when one post processes images in Lightroom or Photoshop.
3. Avoid distracting backgrounds
Typically an extension of the 1st rule, our eyes see in 3D and are excellent at isolating subjects within a frame, the camera however captures everything in 2D, and so if a background has distractions, the camera will capture that as well. Hence special care must be taken to avoid a distracting patch of background while shooting. Most of the time moving a step right or left can make the distractions disappear 🙂
4. Breathing space
An extension of Rule of thirds, having breathing space around the subject means that, there should be sufficient space in the direction in which the subject is moving or looking. If the bird for example is looking to the right there should be more space towards the right hand side of the frame, breathing space also implies that there should be some space all around the subject instead of boxing it into a frame.
5. Leading Lines
Leading lines are basically imaginary pathways along which the viewer’s eyes can travel smoothly within the frame. Examples of leading lines can be natural like rivers, valleys, rows of trees, of flowers and can me manmade things like roads, pathways, buildings, pillars etc.
Symmetry can be found in a variety of natural and man-made objects. A symmetrical image would be the same on one side as on the other. This is an exception wherein the rule of thirds can be broken with very pleasing effects. Examples of Symmetrical objects could be a perfect reflection of a mountain or animal in a lake or pond, repeating patterns in nature, beautiful man-made objects like a painted door, the symmetrical design on a wing of a butterfly, moth etc. An important note while shooting symmetries, please make sure the horizon is straight and not tilted to either side (a crooked horizon can ruin a beautiful image).
7. Rule of Odds
Simply put, Rule of Odds states that having an Odd number of Objects/Subjects i.e. 3 or 5 in an Image will provide for a far interesting and pleasing composition, compared to the one having even Objects i.e. 2,4, 6 etc. This rule can be further extended to groups, wherein they are together and give the perception of being a single unit.
Shooting the same subject from different angles could convey different meanings to an Image, shooting from above could convey how small the subject is, when shooting at eye level we connect to the subject personally and see the world from their perspective, shooting from below the subject could be used to depict the grandeur of the subject or place and could also be used to highlight a powerful and larger than life persona of the subject. I would like to take this further by stating that adding subjects to huge landscapes could convey the vastness of the scene which otherwise we might not conceive.
Last but not the least, one must always try to keep the frame simple and free of clutter, try to cut in as much as you can, to focus only on the most important parts of the Image, we humans have a super intelligent brain and it tends to simplify things even without us consciously thinking so, the camera however is a machine and it’s up to us as photographers to present that beautiful wonder of nature to the world in the most simplistic and beautiful way possible.
P.S.: There are a host of other compositional tools which can be used to compose great images, will write about them pretty soon, till then if you find this article adding value to your photography, please do share and Subscribe 🙂