Demystifying Composition

What is Composition?

In photography, the term composition refers to the arrangement of the elements within the four edges of the frame. ‘It is a clean composition;’ ‘it is a busy composition;’ and ‘it is a striking composition’ are a few ways to describe the composition of a photograph. Regardless of the adjective used, every image, unless it is an image of nothing, has a composition.

The Elements of Composition

We’ve all heard the term composition when talking about anything: it’s the stuff that makes up the thing. For example, for a soda it is the water, juices, carbonation and chemicals, that make up the composition of a soda pop. For a written article, it is the structure and order of the sentences and paragraphs that comprise its composition.

For a photograph, it is all the things inside the frame, including the frame itself that make up the image. When we try different angles and distances we are composing or designing the image: selecting what we want and eliminating undesirable elements.

The building blocks of the composition, referred to as components or elements are things like shape, form, line and point. These are the tangibles. There are also intangibles, which play an equally significant role in image making. Things like color, light, mood, tones, harmony, contrast, balance, space, object weight, tension and time-of-day all work with the tangible elements in the scene and contribute to the final image.

The word composition, when talking about photography, painting or any other visual art, is used interchangeably with the word design.

Putting it all into Practice

So, we have the tangibles and the intangibles. All these elements must be arranged, or organized, or composed by the artist to make a photograph and it is not easy. We must take a scene before us and put it onto a very small piece of photographic media. To raise our images above the level of snapshot and demand more than what Program Mode creates for us, we must use every available tool to our advantage. These include functionality provided from the camera, the elements in the scene and the artist who brings them all together to make art.

Text and images copyright Gloria Hopkins. All Rights Reserved.