An expert I am not but I have learnt a few things about composition that I would like to share. I don’t always get it right like many artists but following a few simple rules can have a big effect on the end result of your images. I am only touching the surface of this topic of composition as it encompasses many aspects but I am hopeful I will give you a head start and the push to explore this further by yourself.
What is composition?
Simply put the arrangement or placement of the all the elements that make up an image but as you will see there is more to just placing figures and props in the right place.
Some of you may be aware that we humans are programmed to look at certain aspects of an image like sharp in-focus parts (Depth of Field (DOF)), bright areas and areas that contrast with the background or foreground. We also look left to right but if nothing holds or draws our eye we will linger towards the top left corner of the image. Knowing how to move a viewer around an image can make your art work better and make it more appealing to the viewer, you. But let us start with some simple rules or guides as I like to call them, for placing your subject matter, for greater impact and balance. The placement of the subject matter and supporting props are just as important as good lighting and surfaces.
The word rule sounds too confining and like many rules these can be broken but only if you understand the fundamentals first.
This Golden Ratio was thought to be discovered by the Greeks, made popular, for example by Fibonacci
with the Fibonacci number sequence
some 1200 odd years later. This Golden Ratio was discovered to be everywhere in nature including us. There are a number of ways to show the golden ratio as the images below show like the Golden Mean and the Golden Spiral which all work on the same mathematical formula.
Rule of Thirds:
The more modern (general consensus circa late 1700’s) version of the Golden Mean became the Rule of Thirds where the image is divided in to 9 equal rectangles/squares and your focus points are where the lines intersect. Placing your subject matter on one of these points will generally balance the image. Try not to place any other object on one of these focus points as it will distract the viewer. See the example below where the water dragon is looking out to sea but the dragon swimming in the distance is hard to see and not on a focus point. It could have been placed closer to a focus point for more balance in my opinion. This is the most common guide that many artists refer to but it is just the tip of many tricks we can use.
I don’t want to get in to a history lesson or get in to this too deep so if you want to learn more about how these evolved I have provided some links for your convenience. I have read a large number of different articles on this subject, cross referencing to make sure the links contain the correct information. I never trust Wikis unless I can cross reference to verify, which takes hours of internet searching and a few library visits.
Suffice to say following these simple guides can really help toward getting a balanced image although other aspects of composition play a part too which I will touch on later. Use them long enough and you will start to do it intuitively. I don’t use them anymore though sometimes I think I should.
Take all the examples below done by eye but I think there is room for improvement IMO.
Look at them closely and see how most things follow the Rule of Thirds. The Horizontal lines are great for landscapes which help to place the horizon line in either one of the thirds. Try not to put the horizon in the middle of the image like I did in the very last example a few posts down.
The first two links below show more composition techniques using various geometric shapes which I never would have thought of on my own which opens up more possibilities of composition. Please read all three pages of the first link.