Photography composition introduction – The elements

Composition is literally organising the elements of your subject into an image frame. What you are trying to attract is the eye, then you have to hold it’s attention.


A really great image takes the eye on an adventure, it pulls it in and takes it for a ride of discovery revealing all of it’s wonderfulness slowly but intricately.

Photography Basics Memory Gate


There are four key elements which you can use to achieve an image which can attract and keep the attention of any viewers eye.

Composition introduction Memory gate

An entry point

This is what fist drags you into the image. The one thing you see from across the room that shouts “stop what you are doing, come over here and look at me”. A obvious example of this would be someone’s eyes. It’s a strange phenomenon, but if you have a picture of someone who is looking straight at the camera and you hang that picture on a wall, no matter where you are in the room the subject appears to be looking at you.


Elements that attract the eye

Being drawn into an image isn’t enough, you have to discover what else is there and to do that there needs to be elements that drag your eye around the photo. You see this all the time in classic painting, in fact all of these elements of composition are taken from the art world.

Photography has a relatively short history and has always stood on the shoulders of classical thorium. Go to an art gallery and head straight for the 16th and 17th century paintings. Don’t get distracted by the fancy modern art, that won’t help you!

Find a simple portrait (it’s easier this way). Now squint your eyes. You will start to see elements in the painting that aren’t at the centre but even through your blurry vision still demand notice. They might be a brighter colour or lighter shade and the chances are they might even create a triangle if you drew a line joining them up.

Now I wonder if you can create a photograph that works in the same way?


Balance between the elements

Having all the attracting elements is great but with everything in life we need to create balance. I could list off numerous equations that I’ve flirted with over the years which would help you create a perfect image but that would just confuse matters. A good photograph, heck a good anything, needs just the right about seasoning. In fact that’s quite a nice analogy, think of the elements in your image as seasoning and your viewers are John Traode and Greg Wallace. If John and Greg were devouring your image would they say it needs a pinch more pepper or a little less salt?


An exit point

Thank you viewer I’m done with you now you can go. That’s what your exit point has to say. After all of the different elements of your image have taken you on a wild ride you finish with an exit point which tells the viewer where to go next. Your entry and exit points could in fact be the same thing or if your image was working as a set of wall displayed photos then you want it to say “that was fun but now go look at this photo over here”.


Think about the weight that each of the elements in your images has. Do they complement each other?


Does the entry point (what first grabs your attention) steal of of the attention of the eye or does it lead the eye onto and around the image till it comes right back at you?


Think about what things you might want to exclude or change in your images. This can be any from textures and colours to direction of a subject’s glance or the position of the main subject in the frame.


There are also many other elements you might want to consider (but not all at once) and we’re going to be covering many of them in the coming weeks.


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