Photographic Composition 101

A Fundamental Approach

There are many ways to approach the subject of photographic composition but in this post I would like to discuss one of the fundamental approaches.

The photograph of the two men (the backstory and some technical information about the photo is provided in the book Creating A Photography Portfolio) is a great example of how the rule of thirds can be applied to guide the photographer to not only achieve a balanced composition, but also to provide the subject(s) with the correct leading room.

Rule Of Thirds

The rule of thirds is an easy method and guideline to use when composing a photo. The principle is based on virtually dividing the scene into three horizontal and three vertical lines i.e. horizontal and vertical thirds. The thirds are then used as guides to decide where to place the subject in the photo.

In this case, the two men constitutes the subject in the photo. The vertical composition is balanced by keeping the subject in the left two thirds, while one third to the right is open. The horizontal composition is balanced in the sense that it places their heads in the top third, bodies in the middle third, while the feet and pot are placed in the bottom third.

Important is also to note that the man on the left is gesturing and looking through the scene all the way to the edge of the right of the photo - this is called leading room. The second man is looking into the same direction. I often refer to this as "leaving space" for the subject to "communicate and interact" in the photograph. The photo would not have had the same sense of meaning if the two men were placed in the two thirds on the right and the man was gesturing "off the photo" with the empty third behind him.

Some cameras provide a grid that can be seen through the viewfinder which can be used to work on composition ideas using the rule of thirds principle.