12 Elements of Composition in Photography, Part 2

Here’s Part 2 of 2 of our Photography Composition post. If you missed Part 1, check out 12 Elements of Composition in Photography, Part 1.

With so many images all around, what will make someone stop and look at yours? Grasping elements of composition that naturally draw eyes to an image or part of an image will help take your photography to a new level.


I was reading about King Henry VIII the other day. Apparently he and Anne Boleyn wore yellow after the death of his first wife, Katherine of Aragon – the queen beloved by the people. When you read that, how do feel they were reacting to her death? My first thought is they were jerks to wear such a joyful color (they claim they wore yellow because that represents mourning in Spain, where Katherine was from).  The point is, color can represent and even trigger emotions and moods. It’s hard to imagine a picture of someone wearing yellow as depressing.

Photography Composition - Element of Color

Consider the mood of the story you’re telling with your picture. What colors will evoke the feelings you want from your viewer? Choose carefully what colors you include in the picture.

Colors like gray or blue can show sadness or depression (King Henry should have chose one of these). Or blue can be a peaceful, calming, color that people trust. Red and yellow make people hungry – think McDonald’s. For more on color psychology visit this site.


Photography Composition - Element of Framing

You can bring attention to your subject by placing a frame around it. And I’m not talking about framing a picture to hang it on the wall. Use elements within the picture itself such as windows, door frames, branches, etc. This would be a fun assignment to give yourself: look for elements around you that would make a good frame.


Photography Composition - Element of Perspective

The angle that you shoot from can significantly affect the drama of a photograph. Rather than just shooting straight on, try moving around your subject and shooting from different angles. Also, experiment with shooting from above and shooting upwards. Shooting down can make your subject seem more submissive to the viewer, while shooting up makes the subject seem dominant.

A change in perspective can also be more flattering to your subject. Rather than shooting down on a child, try crouching down to his level. Shooting up at a person who is weight-challenged will make him look even larger. So if your point is to make someone look dominant, but not fat, try going to the side of the person rather than shooting from directly in front of him. Shooting down may slim a person, but do you want them to look submissive?

Be careful that the camera to subject to background angle doesn’t make it look like something in the background (like a pole or a tree) is growing out of the subject’s head. Just a little change in your perspective can fix that.

Work to find a perspective that makes your picture stand out and conveys an appropriate message about your subject.

Horizon Lines

Photography Composition - Element of Horizon Lines

This goes along with perspective… changing the perspective can move where the horizon line falls in your picture. You don’t want it going through someone’s head. The horizon line is a leading line [see Photography Composition Part 1] and will lead eyes off the page. The subject of the image should be above or below the horizon line.


Photography Composition - Element of Cropping

This really goes along with all the other elements of composition we’ve discussed. Summed up, what do you want to include in the picture? Do you want to focus on details? Or are you trying to shoot a whole scene to tell a story?

I usually try different crops on the same subject and scene. I’ll take some that include more of the scene and others that crop tightly on the subject with little negative space [see Photography Composition Part 1].

Cropping tightly when one would normally “point-and-shoot” a whole scene can make for a more interesting or dramatic photograph.

A note of caution: when photographing people, never crop at a joint like an elbow or knee. It naturally makes the viewer feel like something is missing. Choose somewhere in between like biceps or calves.


Photography Composition - Element of Juxtaposition

Once again, consider the story you’re telling with photography. Using opposites alongside each other can make your photograph more interesting. Examples are wrinkly skin next to baby skin (like this example of a grandma with her newborn granddaughter), salt and pepper, tennis shoes and heels, dogs and cats, etc.

You can create juxtaposition in a picture, but it’s even more fun to look for it from a photojournalist perspective.

Final thoughts on composition

To move beyond being a point-and-shoot photographer, “open your brain” as a friend of mine says. Do the components of the picture tell the story you want? Are you capturing the important parts? Will it elicit the appropriate emotion? Is it interesting? Basically, will anyone’s eyes want stop to look at it?

Consider everything in the scene – will it add or detract from the photograph? Open your brain and make your pictures eye-catching!

Read Photography Composition Part 1 one more time.

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