5 advanced composition techniques
I hope you are all doing very well today. I hope too that you enjoyed my last article – My Ultimate Guide to Travel Photography. I got some great feedback, so I hope you have found it useful.
Today I have another in-depth article for you – all about advanced composition techniques. These are all ideas and techniques that I haven’t written about before. I think you’ll find them both simple and powerful to use when you’re out and about taking photos.
At the bottom of the article you’ll also find links to in-depth articles I’ve written about other compositional techniques. So all in all, this is another jam-packed post.
So let’s get started.
- Negative space
I love this technique. The aim is to place your subject on an unobtrusive background of space or colour. This ‘negative space’ will help define the shape of your subject. This makes your subject stand out, or ‘pop’ out of the image.
One thing I see a lot when looking at people’s images is that they place their subject on a busy background, especially when photographing people, and this can be where negative space is good alternative.
You can use depth of field (DoF) to separate your subject from the background but it does give a more different feel to the image than negative space would.
I look for more negative space when I’m shooting with lots of DoF. This brings about that separation I want between my subject and its background, very useful especially when using a wider lens.
Using the technique of negative space is a great way to create this depth in a photo.
This photo above is an easy way to see the power of negative space. The plain background and the colours are very powerful, and they really help to define the shape of the subject.
In this image there is some space around the main subject, the tree, but the space isn’t clear or blank – you have the trees in the background emerging from the mist. But the effect of negative space is still there, as the mist surrounding the tree really defines its shape.
Now, my last example is also not so obvious as the subject is filling the frame. But it is negative space because the colour and space behind the tree, and the men in the tree, are defining the subject itself. Without that deep colour and space you wouldn’t be able to see either the complexity of the shapes of the branches or the two men.
The negative space here makes the subject really pop!
- Dynamic triangles
Now, I never go out thinking I’m going to go shoot me some ‘dynamic triangles’, but looking in my archives I seem to have lots and lots of them. This makes me think that they are fairly easy to see and I like the way they bring lots of energy to an image.
Dynamic triangles are kin to leading lines – sharing a vanishing point like in the image above. So for high energy and perspective control they are a great technique to use for just about any genre of photography.
- Golden Triangle
I read about these a while back and have been looking for examples in my archives to show you.
What we are doing here is again breaking the image down into triangles but with a very specific spacing. The overlay on the next two images show the Golden Triangles at work. At first you may not see it all and are looking for triangles as such but it is more about direction and how the viewer is influenced.
The photo above has a few very powerful leading lines and the viewer is led by them in specific paths through the image. See how you are brought from one section (triangle) into another. That’s Golden Triangles at work.
I like this example better because it is dealing mostly with the emotive feeling of how the triangles are working. Do you see how the narrative is displayed by sections? The left triangle is leading out. The top one is leading into the right triangle. And the bottom triangle is the bond holding it all together. Pretty cool stuff I think!
“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” Frederic Chopin
I’ve talked before about how important it is to reduce the number of elements in a frame, because the more you have the more your eye is darting around looking at things, and the less impact your subject will then have.
Everything in your frame has to be there for a reason. It has to have a purpose, contributing to the overall image (check those corners!).
Simplicity is a great technique to think about for your images, because it will help you create images with more impact. It will train you to remove things that you don’t need and get you moving your feet and thinking about if you have the correct lens.
Simplicity, I think ,has the effect of provoking ideas of purity, or beauty or clarity. It’s very pleasing to the eye. Simplicity is creating order out of chaos.
Plus – sometimes we just want to celebrate our subjects. That’s where the aesthetic appeal of simplicity comes in. Remember – complexity is very easy, just look anywhere you are right now – simplicity takes thought and effort. Weird huh…seems counterintuitive.
In the photo above we have a total simplicity of colour. Of course the colour is beautiful, but can you see that it brings the photo together, and creates an order to the simplicity?
It’s the fact that the colours are in aesthetically pleasing bands of colour. The lines going across the photo of colours fit in a sort of ‘rule of thirds’ type of style too.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein
Now, the image below is also one in the theme of simplicity. I love finding shapes around me. In a busy city like London, where there are so many contrasting buildings it can be really helpful to think – I am going out to see shapes, not just photograph the city.
I don’t usually like shooting up at things like balconies on buildings or buildings in general because of the converging lines and horrible perspective. But sometimes it works and it works because you make it simple and plain. Plain. Not boring.
I liked this building above for the perfect creation of shapes (and shapes within shapes! Look at all those neat little oblongs within the triangle-like shapes). I have shot this building probably 20, maybe even 50?!, times, and it is always better with a bit of cloud.
I recommend focusing on simplicity if you find your photos end up being too busy looking and you find it hard to create impact for your subject.
- Subject relationship
I’ve talked about building relationships between elements a few times. I think it’s worth mentioning again as it is so important in creating a narrative when subjects can’t speak for themselves to tell you what and where they are – that’s essentially what ‘subject relationship’ is all about.
When thinking of subject relationships in your photography you will find yourself using other techniques to make it work: rule of 3rds, leading lines, negative/positive space are all key ones that help build these relations. The image above is about a place. London. There are just two key elements that are giving you the information you need to know about the where of it.
There is nothing else (simplicity) to distract you from the fact of where you are – rule of 3rds creates the tension between the primary and secondary elements. Overall a great shot – made the cover of my book 🙂
Here again is a combination of composition techniques that create a narrative and guide the eye. This time it’s dynamic leading lines that start the eye’s journey into the image – you go past the top worker in the negative space (easy to see!) and down into the image where you spot the second cleaner.
Using the rule of 3rds helps the emphasis on position (relation) to each other. The top cleaner in the power apex of intersecting lines (Ro3’s) and the horizontal line somewhat implied on the bottom 3rd, leading the eye back to the centre. It’s not a simple image but the successful use of a few tools make it work.
Now I really hope you liked those interesting techniques, and you will find them useful to add to your toolbox.
Here are some links to more in-depth articles that Di and I have written about composition techniques
- Thinking in Threes – Three is a magical number for the eye, it’s very pleasing. In this post I go into a very, very simple but powerful compositional technique I developed that is simple to understand and you can use straight away.
- Shoot the third thing – a concept I developed to help you eliminate the obvious shot
- Natural Framing – one of the traditional key compositional techniques, I love using this technique in a fairly subtle way. It’s not a technique to use often as it can make photos look very staged and hokey (in my opinion), but when it’s the right technique it’s wonderful.
- Reflections – not a technique as such but a great subject to use in your photos, that I almost use as a technique
- Rule of Thirds – in my article for Digital Photography School I explore one of the most well known composition techniques.
- Juxtaposition – in this post I use the subject of London to explore how juxtaposition can be an excellent compositional tool.
- Take better photos by breaking the world down into elements – taking photos is essentially about organising the elements of the world into interesting photos. Here I help you understand how to do this.
- Photographing Colour – not a traditional technique, but colour can be an amazingly powerful subject as well as being used to create mood, enhance your subject etc.
- Leading lines – another of the key traditional compositional techniques, probably my favourite one.
That’s it for today! I’d love to know what you think. Do you use any of these composition techniques? Do you have a favourite? Let us know by commenting below.
Have a fantastic day and happy photographing,
Anthony (photos + words) and Diana (words)