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  • Writer's pictureGeir Helge Solevåg

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Advance through some common compositional rules

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

Photography is a medium that allows us to capture and share the beauty of the world around us. Whether you're capturing wildlife, landscapes, architecture or just people around you the way you compose your photos can greatly affect their impact and appeal. A well-composed photo can capture the viewer's attention and convey a sense of emotion or mood. On the other hand, a poorly composed photo can be boring, confusing, or uninteresting, even if the situation in real life looked amazing.

Composition is the arrangement of visual elements in a photograph. It involves the way you position a subject in the frame, the use of lines, shapes, and colors, and the overall balance and harmony of the image. By using certain compositional rules, you can create more visually interesting and appealing photos that capture the essence of what you see. In this blog post, we'll explore three very basic compositional rules that can help improve. We'll discuss the rule of thirds, leading lines, and symmetry and how to use them to create more dynamic and captivating photos.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a basic compositional guideline that can help you create a more balanced and interesting composition. Imagine dividing your photo into three equal parts, both horizontally and vertically, to create a grid of nine squares. Place your subject at one of the intersections of these lines to create a more visually appealing composition. This creates more tension and energy, as well as a more natural and pleasing composition. A variant of the rule of thirds is using the Golden ratio, like i have visualized below. Here you see how I positioned the sun very close to one of the 4 possible points of the Golden ratio in this image. Worth noticing is that i cropped the image in post processing to achieve this. Composition should most importantly be considered when you actually make the photo, but is also important to consider in post processing.

Leading Lines

Leading lines are lines in a photo that draw the viewer's eye towards the subject, or in a way that take the viewer "into" the image. They can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or curved. Leading lines can be found in the natural environment, such as a road, a river, or a fence, or they can be created by man-made objects, such as a bridge or a building. Such lines can help create a sense of depth, movement, and visual interest in your photos. Being able to see lines like this in your environment is part of developing your skills as a photographer.

Not my own image. CC0-licence.

My great grandfather, who was a painter, always used to frame his environment making a frame by the hand, just to determine if the lines would make a good painting. that might be a good way to practice.

As you can see in the examples below, the lines in the photos draw your eyes towards the point of interest of the frame, where the subject is positioned. The use of leading lines not only adds visual appeal but also helps to convey a message or tell a story. Understanding how to incorporate leading lines into your photography can greatly improve the impact and effectiveness of your images. In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the concept of leading lines and explore various ways to use them in your photography.

Skier in untouched landscape. Notice how the tracks lead your eyes to the skier, and then to the top. The composition reinforces the story about the skiers journey, and also, in a way, give the viewer a point of view in the image.

An example of a more S-formed line, running from the lower left corner, leading the eyes diagonally in a S-shape towards the main subject, is shown below. S-lines can be very powerful compositional effects, so be sure to take advantage of them when chance is there! A very good place to learn about, and observe the visual effects of lines like this can be to google aerial photographs of roads or meandering rivers.

Symmetry and repetitiveness

Symmetry is the last compositional rule I cover in this post. Symmetrical compositions are balanced and harmonious, with elements that are mirrored or repeated on both sides of the photo.

This can create a sense of order, stability, and beauty in your photos. You can create symmetry by placing your subject in the center of the frame or by finding natural symmetrical elements in the environment, such as

reflections or patterns. It is important to note that symmetry doesn't always have to be perfect to be effective.

In fact, sometimes slight imperfections or variations in the symmetry can add interest and depth to the photo. See how the trees in the image resemble the background mountains. It’s not perfectly symmetrical, just enough to make the image interesting.

The seascape below is highly symmetrical, and make the scene feel calm. There is not much tension, contrasts or other elements that trigger the thoughts, just ease and calmness. This particular view could have been captured in numerous ways, resulting in a completely different image.

For instance, I could have opted to shoot from a different angle, say, from one of the sides of the cliff instead. Alternatively, I could have adjusted the exposure to capture the waves in their full intensity, creating a more dramatic effect. Making such choices is an integral part of composing an excellent shot, and it's often advisable to experiment with different perspectives of the same location.

Summing it all up

Composition is an essential element of photography and basically all visual arts, and there are much more to this than the three "rules" described above. You can look into compositional effects using colors, shapes, contrast, shadows, "negative space" and much more. Even so, by using the three compositional rules described in this post, you will be able create more visually appealing and interesting photos if you don’t already do so.

The rule of thirds can be used to create more tension and energy.

Leading lines draw the viewer's eye towards the subject

Symmetry create balance and harmony.

With practice and experimentation, you can use these rules to create beautiful and captivating photos that capture the essence of your subject. Remember that the rules can be used in combination. Lat but not least: rules are there to guide you, not to restrict. If you find compositions that seems like a good idea you should try them out. Sometimes breaking the "rules" can be just what is needed to make the shot, but until you understand why, or at least know of "feel" when, you should try to learn and master as many compositional rules as possible. Take them one at a time!

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