“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.

Eye-level-example

These Images of a Mistle Thrush were shot 5 minutes apart, the one on the left was shot standing and the one on the right by lying on the ground, notice how there are no distractions and the subject stands out in the frame (R) when shot at eye level. 

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.

Rule of Thirds Grid

Rule of Thirds Grid

The above Image of an Ultramarine Flycatcher has been positioned as per Rule of Thirds, which makes for a very pleasing composition

The above Image of an Ultramarine Flycatcher has been positioned as per Rule of Thirds, which makes for a very pleasing composition

Rule of thirds can also be applied to Landscapes, instead of placing the Horizon line bang in centre, I have positioned the sky in the upper 1/3rd Quadrant.

Rule of thirds can also be applied to Landscapes, instead of placing the Horizon line bang in centre, I have positioned the sky in the upper 1/3rd Quadrant.

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 🙂

These Black-Chinned babblers although sharp and cute  notice how the distracting leaves all over the place takes the beauty of the image away.

These Black-Chinned babblers although sharp and cute 🙂 notice how the distracting leaves all over the place takes the beauty of the image away.

Though the Rock Bunting is sharp and detailed, note the distracting branches and leaves all over the place in the background.

Though the Rock Bunting is sharp and detailed, note the distracting branches and leaves all over the place in the background.

Though not perfect, this is an image which could be called as having very minimal distractions in the background.

Though not perfect, this is an image which could be called as having very minimal distractions in the background.

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.

A Brown-headed Gull, note the active space towards the right side of the frame for the bird to fly in and some breathing space all around the subject.

A Brown-headed Gull, note the active space towards the right side of the frame for the bird to fly in and some breathing space all around the subject.

Same image cropped in a bad way, there is no breathing space around the bird and it appears to be boxed in the frame.

Same image cropped in a bad way, there is no breathing space around the bird and it appears to be boxed in the 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.

In the above Image, I wanted to highlight the rains falling only in a patch of the whole, the winding river acts as a leading line directing the viewer’s attention towards the rain. (At least that’s what I think ;-) )

In the above Image, I wanted to highlight the rains falling only in a patch of the whole, the winding river acts as a leading line directing the viewer’s attention towards the rain.

Another example of leading lines, guiding the viewer’s eye very smoothly through the frame.

Another example of leading lines, guiding the viewer’s eye very smoothly through the frame.

6. Symmetry

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).

One of those reflections, here we have placed the horizon line bang in the centre of the frame and it still looks pleasing.

One of those reflections, here we have placed the horizon line bang in the center of the frame and it still looks pleasing.

The main point of Interest, the Peak of Janukuth is placed bang in centre, its looks symmetrical on both sides, for this composition rule of thirds would not have helped.

The main point of Interest, the Peak of Janukuth is placed bang in center, its looks symmetrical on both sides, for this composition rule of thirds would not have helped.

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.

A Trio of Himalayan Tahr 

A Trio of Himalayan Tahr

8. Perspective

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.

Shooting up close and from below, gives this Rhesus Macaque a king size persona in the frame.

Shooting up close and from below, gives this Rhesus Macaque a king size persona in the frame.

The above is a collage of two same images, the one on the left looks like what would be an ordinary water stream, with a human subject in the frame however (in this case my brother), one can now actually visualise how big the stream is and makes the image much more interesting.

The above is a collage of two same images, the one on the left looks like what would be an ordinary water stream, with a human subject in the frame however (in this case my brother), one can now actually visualise how big the stream is and makes the image much more impacting.

Without the Human element, these would appear to be just ….normal clouds :-) 

Without the Human element, these would appear to be just ….normal clouds 🙂

Simplicity!!!!

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 🙂

 

Hope this helps!!!!


2 Comments


Vishal Reply July 22, 2016

Thanks Praveen, I really appreciate your passion, work and knowledge in photography. Yours blogs are simply enriched with valuable points and facts. These are really very helpful. Thanks for posting.

praveen July 22, 2016

Thank you so much, really appreciated.


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