Creating visual impact: Composition

Coming from a background in photography, I have always been taught that the single most effective way to create visual impact is composition. There are a couple of simple rules to remember when composing a shot, so that it is more interesting for the viewer. They also help tell the story (a good photograph either has its own narrative, or makes the audience ask questions and construct their own understanding and their own story).

The golden section and the rule of thirds

This is a classical rule, originating from fine art. We divide the horizontal and the vertical axis of the image in three:

Rule of thirds

Rule of thirds

People (especially artists) found out it makes an image more interesting if the important elements are closer to the points where these lines cross. It also helps if the horison in landscapes is not in the center, but rather closer to the upper or lower third. That way, the eyes can focus on either the land/waterscape or on the sky.

Golden section

Golden section

Beginners in photography and visual arts often assume they need to place the important objects in the middle of the photo so it is in the centre of attention. Most of the time however, it doesn’t work. The result:

Object in the centre

Object in the centre

Horison in the middle:

Horison in the centre

Horison in the centre

Quite bland and boring. These photos don’t really say much.

Better example:

Vertical composition and the rule of thirds

Vertical composition and the rule of thirds

Other types of composition

Triangle composition

Triangle composition

Triangle composition

The main objects in the image form a kind of triangle. Another example:

Triangle

Triangle

• Circular composition

Circular composition

Circular composition

And another, probably not so obvious example:

Circular

Circular

• Lines that guide the viewer’s eye

Guiding lines

Guiding lines

Different example of composing with lines:

Paths

Paths

Another important rule in composing a scene is leaving enough ‘air’ in the direction the subject is looking at. Here is an example of wrong composition:

Not enough air

Not enough air

Much different from this one:

Better composed

Better composed

Of course, following or intentionally breaking these rules are different ways to create visual impact. I think the next image is a good example of creating impact by breaking the rules. The eyes are almost in the exact centre of the photograph, but it works well:

Breaking the rules of composition

Breaking the rules of composition

(sidenote: the images in this post are from my own photography archive)

Using photography techniques in video

One of the most photographic music videos (at least for me) is the one for ‘Wonderful Life’ by Black. Note how each shot is composed, and even though a lot of the sequences are quite static, there is a beautiful feeling of movement:

Composition vs. editing in video

Here is a great example of using long sequences vs. editing and telling the story by guiding the viewer through the scene:

Read the whole article about analysing viewer’s eye movement »

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3 thoughts on “Creating visual impact: Composition

    • Thank you, James 🙂 I hope they illustrate the post well. Plus, searching for examples made me look at my photos more critically and helped me realise why some of them work and others don’t. So I ended up learning from my own post 😀

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  1. Pingback: Net TV. Screening session and my personal comments | Rumena Zlatkova. I live to create.

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