Photographic composition

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Photographic composition is one of the main elements that make up photographic art. And it is that, human action will always be governed by a born instinct to “compose.” We spend them constantly searching for order and harmony in everything we do. When we arrange our room, we choose and order the right colors, textures and objects to convey that feeling of comfort that we long for.

When we select the most appropriate ingredients, flavors and textures, to obtain that delicious dish with which we want to surprise the family and guest diners. The idea of ​​”composition” will always manifest itself either unconsciously or at the full level of consciousness, as behavior intrinsic to human beings.

Now, the notion of composition as a formal concept touches the field of the arts and in this case at hand, photography. Being the daughter of painting, she generally adopts the laws that govern it, recreates them in her own visual language with the resources and techniques available to her.

What is photographic composition?

Photographic composition is the ability to observe, select, gather and order elements of reality in the frame of a photographic camera to capture them with the The purpose of harmonizing them together on a theme and generating an expected reaction in the observer.

The photographer uses various elements of plastic expression that he orders with full knowledge and following the laws of visual perception, to consciously direct the gaze of whoever is in front of the image . All this in order to consistently convey a message, tell a story and awaken feelings in the viewer . That’s right, emotion will be your creative engine as an artist of the image as well as the emotion of those who delight in front of it.

Conoce sobre composición fotográfica

Rules of photographic composition

Now, based on your innate sensitivity to choose scenes and take shots with your camera, it is essential to know the rules, laws or composition standards that will help you find that impact result in your photographs. The rules of photographic composition are those that will guide your creative process at the service of the story you want to tell , of the emotion that you want to convey in total conjunction with the expected reaction of whoever observes your work.

In first instance observation , knowing how to look, will be that creative sensitivity that you must train to choose those scenes that they are revealed in front of you to be captured. Your brain immediately processes and orders them following laws associated with visual perception. With skill you will decide how you will have the visual elements in the frame, starting with highlighting the chosen motif as center of interest before triggering the trigger. Around this, the other forms together with the expressive elements of photographic composition will be ordered to give unity to the image, harmony and aesthetic sense.

The center of interest is that shape, motif, subject or object that becomes the protagonist of your image. The other compositional elements will be arranged around it and arranged in such a way as to highlight it. It will become the first thing the observer sees, you will highlight it in such a way that it will be their first eye contact so that then their gaze travels through the rest of the photograph. These accents and pauses is what is known as rhythm in the composition and will allow you to take the viewer’s perception by the hand using the compositional rules.

Marina Cano | Fotografía de Naturaleza

What are the rules of photographic composition?

Sets the center of interest

Regarding the rules of photographic composition we must start by knowing where to position the center of interest in the frame once chosen. What a situation, but nevertheless it seems that our work is made easier because its name gives us a clue to its location: the center of the image. Let me tell you that this logic does not work all the time because everything will depend on how you will highlight it, what forms you will use to complement the composition, the moods you want to convey and if you bet on a more dynamic and daring composition.

Gabriela Olmedo composición

Rule of the Thirds

For this there is a rule called Law of Thirds , one of the most used to sort and solve problems of location of objects or shapes in the frame. To locate the areas or “strong points” of the square of the shot, where the viewer’s gaze will be directed in the first instance, we must divide the space equally into a grid with two horizontal and two vertical lines.

The meeting of convergence of the lines or the resulting four points defines that area in a natural way and where you should start to train yourself in the art of photographic composition. Some cameras have this grid incorporated as an option to give you in the frame the location points of the center of interest .

This rule is widely used in portrait photography , in nature photography and in the product photography . Once you’ve experimented with applying this rule, jump into more daring compositions. On many occasions its abuse tends to present simple and static composition photographs. Combine it with other rules or laws that also solve composition problems and that we will explain below.

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Less is more

The negative space , the law of « less is more »or the law of« unity in unity «, explores the possibilities of a minimalist composition. Surrounding the subject with a large empty space helps to highlight the prominence of what you decided to be the center of interest . That flat space, absent or with minimal visual elements, wraps up the motif without competing with it, highlighting it.

In this case you can use the laws of chromatic contrasts to choose a background color that stands out, such as complementary or opposite colors in the chromatic circle. Now the way to use this resource and its variation in the positioning on the plane implies highlighting a specific state of mind.

Placing it in front or behind, above or below the center of interest is to convey feelings related to the to project forward, respite, oppression, freedom among others. Now, if you don’t have a negative space that effectively adapts to your subject, experiment by defocusing it by varying the aperture of the diaphragm. You just have to decide the emotion you want to convey by complementing your composition with the use of technical resources to obtain well-made photographs

Composición minimalista

Law of look

There is another rule that applies especially to portraiture. It is what is known as the law of the gaze and consists of leaving space in the direction where the portrayed subject’s gaze is directed. This resource will make the image interesting and arouse curiosity in the viewer trying to locate or imagine what the portrayed individual is observing on the plane. This rule can be consciously broken if you seek to express feelings of oppression or overwhelm. Placing the protagonist near the frame of the photo without space where the gaze does not breathe and with a lack of directionality is valid as long as it is justified by the narrative.

Salem | Autorretrato | Master Class Photographers
Salem | Self-portrait | Master Class Photographers

The equilibrium

Another composition rule that we must pay attention to is balance . The shapes that are presented in an image are related to each other, keeping a law of attraction that has to do with visual weight . Because of this, it will depend on characteristics related to color in the photographic composition, size and position in the plane. The warm colors, yellow, orange and red tones will weigh more because they give the sensation of approaching in the plane than the greens, blues and violets that are cold colors and that on the contrary seem to move away. Lighter tones will be less heavy than saturated tones.

An element of greater volume or mass will therefore have greater visual weight. This also attends to the premise that everything that stands out and stands out by contrast in the composition will have greater weight because it generates greater attraction or visual impact. An isolated shape in the plane will weigh more than the others that are not. From here, the balance with the compensation of the forms will result in three types of composition: static or symmetric composition where the shapes are repeated distributed on both sides of the imaginary axis.

This type of composition will suggest rest, rest, calm, but it will not add much interest to it. On the other hand, the dynamic or asymmetric composition where the weight is distributed unevenly on both sides of the axis will provide greater compositional vigor, it will not suggest imbalance but rather the balance will be sought through other resources such as the triangulation of the shapes giving it agility. A third is the unbalanced composition where the weight is distributed only to one side of the axis. Knowing this, you can play with these compositional forms, varying the balance to suggest different emotions and sensations.

equlibrio visual

Ley del Horizonte Visual

There is another standard used especially for landscape photography, which is the law of the visual horizon. Divide the frame into three equal parts using imaginary horizontal lines. You will occupy two of the thirds of the frame the place to be highlighted be it the sky or the earth.

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Techniques of photographic composition

Photographic composition techniques will allow you to explore the expressive possibilities of visual language, to know the variations you can make with your camera to explore different ways of capturing images. This will result in the development of the narrative and aesthetic aspect of your photographs.


One of them is framing , it is the way we decide to position the camera frame to capture a scene. The framing will aim to isolate a portion of reality in a frame that will be as important as what is within it.

Can be horizontal, recommended for landscape photography; vertical, suitable for portrait or product photography; or diagonally giving some movement to the image playing with the feeling of imbalance. We can also incorporate a painting that is part of the captured scene and at the same time functions as a frame for it, such as a door, a window, a mirror.


Another technical compositional aspect has to do with the planes in the photograph, the ratio of the space occupied by the captured motif to the total surface of the selected frame. This relationship will be determined by the distance of the shot between the subject and the camera, the distance or the approach of the scene. Its classification is established based on the human figure.

It is divided into general planes , medium and short . A great general shot is recognized because the human figure is reduced or far away in the shot or frame, highlighting the background. A medium-long shot or as it is known American shot, is one where the person approaches the shot from the knees. The medium plane shortens the individual from the waist, her features being clearly perceptible, which is why it turns out to be the most used.

Short shots tend to be more intimate. They include the close-up, where the image of the subject approaches the plane from the clavicles, and the very close-up where the face is framed from the forehead to the chin occupying the entire plane and whose focal point is the gaze and the lips. The detail shot isolates and zooms in on a small feature of the object or individual.


Another compositional technical aspect to take into account is the angle of the shot. The angulation is the position from where the capture is made. Its variation will bring changes in the way we perceive the objects in the scene and the sensations they produce. There are several, including the natural or medium angle where the framing is made from the same height as the subject or subject captured. Its connotation is linked to the descriptive, to the objective appreciation of the image.

The chopped whose angulation is made from above or from a higher height with respect to the motif. Its significance addresses feelings of insignificance because it belittles it. The contrapicado is captured from an angle below the motif, enlarging its proportions and therefore conveys a meaning of power. The zenith angle taken from above perpendicular to the ground, which has a purely descriptive power.


Another technical aspect to take into account in photographic composition is the use of perspective and the ability to capture the depth of three-dimensional reality in the two-dimensionality of the image. It is the relationship that we observe between the different elements and their position in the plane according to the chosen point of view. It can be suggested by overlapping the shapes where we see that some elements are smaller than others in the plane.

By linear perspective where parallel lines meet at the so-called vanishing point suggesting the depth of space; by aerial or atmospheric perspective where the sensation of remoteness is suggested as the colors dull while going up or moving away in the plane; the forced perspective where the inventiveness of the photographer is expressed by giving large size to objects that do not have it or dwarfing others by means of optical illusions.

Natural Frames

You can use your environment as a tool to create natural frames. These will help you avoid distractions, give your photos depth and center pay attention to your important elements in a natural and subtle way. This image shows how the outline of the door draws a square that frames the model’s torso and face.

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If your photography style is to pay attention to the elements that are in the center of the photo, you are not so lost in photographic composition issues. Symmetry is a guide to be able to include similar elements that generate the sensation of balance and have all the attention in the center of the image. Photos that depend on the context and exact moment for a correct composition.

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What are the elements for a photographic composition?


Among the elements of the photographic composition it is important to highlight the lines because they will be decisive in the directionality of the viewer’s gaze while perceptually traveling through the image. The lines together with the point is the primary element in the composition. It gives it dynamism, body and intentionality in the connection and direction that it establishes with the center of interest of the photographic composition. They are also associated with the communication of moods.

The lines according to their position in space can be horizontal, vertical and inclined . The horizontal ones are associated with firmness, stability, peace; the verticals to elevation, spirituality, and vigilance; and the inclined or oblique to the sensation of tension, instability and fall.

Lines according to their nature can be straight, curved, mixed and broken. The lines convey stillness, rest; curves, movement and sensuality; the mixed alternation and rhythm; and the broken dispute, aggressiveness. In composition, the diagonals usually provide that interesting, vigorous feature with greater visual strength. Dare to create eye-catching perspectives with its use in alternation with the others.

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Another element that gives character and vigor to a photographic composition is color. The color in the photographic composition intervenes in a decisive way because it allows to contribute one more element in the harmony of the forms. We can look to combine complementary or opposite colors in the chromatic circle to contrast shapes by choosing a predominant one in terms of proportion.

Also harmonize by color families or tonal variations of the same color, choosing one that stands out in greater quantity and the others in a smaller proportion. Also capture the harmony of color by value that is expressed through the degradation of a tone in the gray scale, black and white.


Another interesting element in photographic composition is texture. Texture is the external appearance of bodies . The textural appearance in photography is very interesting because it tends to suggest the corporeity of the bodies, standing out thanks to the incidence of light on the subject or scene to be photographed.

It is expressed in its entire dimension when the light falls obliquely, so it is suitable to photograph outdoor scenes at dusk or dawn avoiding “hard” or direct light that brings a day with the sun at full zenith.

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In conclusion, these are just some of the many options you have of photographic composition that you can achieve and put into practice in your photographs. Knowledge of the rules, techniques and elements of photographic composition will guide you in experimentation.

In practice lies the fact of mastering the technique and from there launching yourself to photograph the world daring to transgress and enrich them. Your inventiveness, creativity and aesthetic sense will lead you on the right path of proposing interesting and original photographs.

Photographic composition
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