How to develop a sense of composition


How to develop a sense of composition

Few are endowed with compositional vision, but it is still possible to develop this useful quality in oneself. To train your compositional flair, there are special techniques and exercises that we have collected in one post.


Analysis of other people’s work

Study of famous works of painting or photography. Try to analyze and understand how they work. You can test the composition for strength: remove the details, figures, tonal masses from it and check whether they are really necessary and what will happen without them (the “fig leaf” game). First you need to stock up on paper of different colors. If the detail, the meaning of which we are examining, lies on a black background, the mask should also be black, on white – white, on gray – gray.

In order not just to look, but also to see, you need to distract from superficial information, and perceive only those forms and figures that are shown in the picture.


To whom it is given, he will see. And who is not given, he must let hundreds, thousands of such comparisons pass through himself. To do this, you need to regularly view hundreds of photos and compare them. At the same time, it is not necessary to compare two photographs, but versions of one that are close in layout. Other options: hang the picture upside down, look at it in a different light, move away and look from afar.

Movement and choice

Cut out figures of characters (abstract, abstract) from paper and move them on the sheet, as the young Repin did. First, you can take two figures, only then three and, which is much more difficult, four or more. Exercises with simple figures allow you to experience compositional interactions, so to speak, in its purest form. Good advice for eyeglass wearers to look without glasses; look tightly squinting. Or put the picture in front of you, close your eyes, then open them for a while and close them again. The remainder of the instantaneous scanning of the image remains in the eyes.

Focusing the viewer’s attention

To improve the quality of photographs, you need to make sure that the main subject is of increased interest and is effectively positioned in the frame, drawing the viewer’s eye where it needs to be, and emphasizing the subject itself. This can be achieved in a variety of creative, artistic and symbolic ways. Size, color, shape, contrast of an object with the surrounding environment of the image (foreground, middle and background) – all this allows you to isolate the object and direct attention to it.

Balance, structure, grouping

The structure of photographs affects their visual impact. When working on your composition, look for a balance of color, lighting, and subject placement within the frame. When it comes to the “balance” of photography, we mean composition, in which visual elements appear attractive to the eye. We’ve all seen group photos of people huddling in the center, trying to fit into the frame and without any intention of the photographer, effectively filling that frame. The composition of such a typical shot suffers. At the same time, as a rule, there is too much empty space above the heads of people. You can achieve interesting composition and perspective with creative and thoughtful camera placement for a unique perspective. For example, if you are photographing a child or pet, position the camera at floor level. The composition will be much more enticing than shooting from top to bottom. As is often the case in art, good perspective and composition is obtained either instinctively or developed through practice and study.


Contrast in lighting is another way to give an image an extra dimension. Light contrast is the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of a photo. By manipulating this element, the photographer is able to expand the depth and improve the three-dimensional quality of the photograph – one of its most striking and memorable properties. You can also use the contrast of shape and size to complicate the plot. Geometric contrast creates a dramatic tension, lends a story to photography. In the photo of the Eiffel Tower, the contrast of lighting and size is used for entertainment. The silhouette of a man seems to be almost as tall as the Eiffel Tower, and its intricate pattern seems to pierce the pulsing red sky. Imagine how mundane this photo would be if it were taken at noon.

Frame in frame

This concept has been adopted by photographers from artists who use some kind of “frame” within common boundaries to further isolate the subject. The frame can be a door, window, mirror, arch, etc. The main thing in this technique is the clear lines and shape of the frame and a clear focus. Thanks to this technique, you will immediately direct the viewer’s attention in the right direction.

Blur the background

You can blur the foreground or background in a photo. This optical property can enhance the composition of images, isolating the main subject. Blur is achieved at the expense of depth of field, which in turn depends on aperture, focal length and distance from the subject to the lens. Mastering this skill is extremely important in order to create truly interesting photographs. A wide aperture (f / 1.4 to f / 2.8) effectively reduces depth of field, as do lenses with longer focal lengths.

Paying attention to details

As in all other areas of life, the smallest details in photography need to be paid attention to and emphasized correctly. Every detail of the photo has its own meaning. A photo of a flower will look very different when the viewer sees the dew drops playing with the petal pattern. When working on a portrait, use lighting to bring out laugh lines and expressive features. The character display gives very interesting portraits. If you think about it, it is the small details of objects and people that lurk beneath the surface, but tell their story of a moment immortalized in photography.

Rule of thirds

Another illustration and drawing technique that a photographer needs to master. The rule of thirds divides the canvas or frame into three vertical and three horizontal sections. The four intersections of these lines are key points. Studies have shown that the human eye looks exactly at these points when it first looks at a painting or photograph. Thus, by placing the main elements at the intersection, you enhance the dynamics of the photo. Look at the photo above and imagine how uninteresting the photo would be if the girl were placed strictly in the center of the photo. The background would not be part of the composition and the cunning on the girl’s face would not be enhanced by the understanding of what is in the background (perhaps a carnival?)


One of the beauties of digital photography is the relative ease of post-processing that used to be done in a dark room. With Photoshop, you can easily crop your image for the best aesthetic effect. Cropping is the process of rearranging the frame of a photograph in order to improve the composition. We’ve all seen (and possibly taken) photographs with unnecessary objects at the edges of the frame. By cropping the photo, you can get rid of these unnecessary elements. In the photo above, there was too much headroom in the original, and another photographer was in the frame. By cropping the photo, we increased the focus on family and removed the photographer, while leaving enough background to inform the viewer of the location where the photo was taken.

Features of perspective

Perspective is how the photographer sees objects through the placement of the camera. For example, the same subject will look different if photographed at eye level, from above and from the ground. By changing perspective, the photographer changes the position of the horizon and influences the viewer’s perception of the landscape. For example, if you take a full-length photo of a person from ground level, it will appear much more formidable, powerful and larger than when shooting from normal eye level. Another way to change perspective is to use camera positions that are atypical for the human eye. A bird’s eye view or very high angles change the dynamics of your composition.

Choose simplicity

The concept of “less is more” works effectively in everything, and photography is no exception. Overly complicated composition of a photograph presents the same problem as complex, cluttered sentences – they make it difficult to understand and appreciate the idea. Simplicity in this context does not mean oversimplification, but the absence of unnecessary and unnecessary elements. Creating uncluttered, clear compositions makes it easier to grasp the idea in photography.

PS: Soon we will publish a series of video tutorials on composition 🙂

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