Taking photos may be easy, especially with the advancement of software technology. However, as simple as it may seem, there are basic principles that must be observed for visual elements to successfully come together. This is called photographic composition.

What exactly is photographic composition?

Composition in photography refers to how the elements and relative objects are arranged in such a way that matches the overall concept of the photograph. It is the language of photography that conveys a visual message to the viewers.

For a lot of photographers, composition is a difficult concept to master. While learning the technicalities of using a camera might be easy, having a great photographic composition often separates a good photo from a bad one.

To understand what makes a good photographic composition, we present six basic principles every beginner should understand.

Balance

In photography, balance is simply achieving visual equilibrium between the components of a picture. Balance could either be symmetrical or asymmetrical. 

Symmetrical balance in photographic composition is when either side of a picture’s imaginary lines has duplication in terms of line, form, or color. 

Asymmetrical balance, on the other hand, is when balance is achieved despite having different visual images on either side of the picture. In photos with asymmetrical balance, the visual weight (i.e., the measure of how much certain components of an image attract the viewer’s eye) on each side is unequal. Balance is achieved when one side of the composition has a dominant element, while the other side has more or lesser focal points.

The compositional balance ensures that every part of the image is interesting, which makes viewers more engaged with the picture.

When editing photos, photographers may use the cropping tool to remove or hide a portion of an image that does not add balance to the composition. Other elements in the composition must also achieve balance, such as colors, shapes, and space.

Proportion

Proportion in photography refers to the relationship of sizes and space between different objects. It uses the size of an object to determine its importance in the photograph. Photographers may change camera angles to exaggerate proportions. They may also move an object close to the lens to capture a distorted view of the object. Doing so emphasizes the importance of the object based on its size and space in the picture.

There are two types of proportion in photography: perfect proportion and distorted proportion. An image with a perfect proportion shows objects as we would perceive them in real life, such as a picture of a person with proportional body parts. But photographers sometimes use distorted proportions to give the photo a specific effect. For example, making the hands extremely large compared to the other parts of the body may emphasize the object that the subject is holding.

To achieve a certain proportion in images, photo editors sometimes scale their images to either make things seem incredibly detailed and small, or look big and grand.

Harmony

Harmony is the overall visual continuity of the theme, where all parts of the picture fit together. It reflects the wholeness of the image and the conditions that emphasize the similarity, peace, and flow of the elements in a photograph. Harmony makes an image visually stimulating through the combination of similar elements, such as color, shape, and texture, throughout the frame.

When an image achieves harmony, all of its components relate to each other and complement each other to create a whole. Harmony in photography is achieved at different levels. For example, color harmony strives to achieve a pleasing arrangement of colors in a particular image. Making sure that colors are in harmony with each other will enable your image to convey a sense of order. 

To achieve color harmony, photographers carefully consider the color selection. When editing a photo, adjusting the color balance, brightness, and contrast can improve the color harmony of the picture. Sometimes, photo editors add filters to accentuate the emotions of a photo and make the colors more harmonious.

Unity

Unity can sometimes be mistaken for harmony. In photography, unity means the grouping or arranging of the components in an image to achieve oneness. Though unity and harmony can be similar, the concept of unity is broader. While harmony is creating cohesiveness by stressing similarities, unity emphasizes how separate parts work well together. 

To achieve unity, photographers often plan an image to determine what particular message, vibe, or atmosphere they want to convey. Unity combines a lot of elements, such as texture, color, line, tone, shape, form, and space. To make the image more unified, you must already have a clear idea of the photographic outcome before shooting a picture.

A unified picture is when all elements are well presented, without unnecessary components or parts that feel out of place. There are several tools you can use to achieve unity when editing a photo, such as crop, exposure, and white balance. Most of the time, bad cropping, wrong exposure adjustments, weird angles, and awkward perspectives bring disunity and disrupt the harmony of the shot.

Contrast

Contrast refers to the conditions that emphasize differences, conflicts, and opposition. In photography, contrast is created when opposing elements are present — for example, light versus dark, and warm versus cool tones. A popular example of contrast is the use of black and white photos to create a dramatic effect.

Aside from the color and temperature, contrast can also be achieved through the use of texture. Adding two or more textures in the photo can create another dimension that conveys a sense of touch. A typical example of this is a picture of round water droplets against a rough surface.

When editing a photo, using the brightness and contrast adjustments emphasizes the tonal range of an image, adding more contrast to the composition. By using contrasting themes, you bring more meaning, variety, and quality to your image.

Rhythm

Rhythm in photography is similar to the concept of rhythm in music theory. Rhythm is the use of elements to create a visual repetition or tempo. Basically, rhythm utilizes repeated patterns. Photographers use this to convey a sense of comfort and peace.

Since everything around us is built with basic and often similar shapes, it is easy to find repetition of forms — lines painted on the roads or windows of houses. When you take a photo of apples, for example, you can easily notice the repeating patterns. 

However, having too much rhythm in a photo tends to be boring. To make the photo more interesting, some photographers add interruption. For instance, a photo of a red flower among a pattern of yellow flowers or a lone person amidst a backdrop of huge boulders.

Conclusion

Photographic composition is more than just the rule of thirds. As challenging as they sound, the basic principles of composition add creativity to your photography.  Successful compositions utilize such principles to bring harmony, unity, and captivating aesthetics into the image. You can start looking around for inspiration and apply these principles to convey a compelling message to your viewers.

However, mastering composition will not happen overnight (or even a week). It takes a lot of practice and patience to understand what makes a great photo. If you’re still grappling with your photography skills, you may edit your photos using apps, such as MyZesty, for more visually appealing compositions.

MyZesty is a new photo editing and sharing app that allows you to crop, adjust the brightness and contrast, add filters, and modify the color vibrance and temperature of your photos to improve their composition. It also has the Custom feature, which enables you to create dramatic filters for more captivating effect. To learn more about MyZesty, check the link here.