Monday, November 1, 2004

Image composition for beginners


By James Booth

What is composition? Quite simply, composition is the art -- and I do mean art -- of arranging the setting of the images you photograph. Any monkey can point a camera and click a shutter, but that doesn't mean the image will be pleasing to the eye, or that anyone will want to look at it. In effect, image composition is the "what you shoot at" part of photography.

I am by no means a master photographer, but like the other articles in my Photography Basics series, I've learned a few things over the years that can help you produce better photos.

"Know what your message is and how you want to convey it before clicking the shutter."

Start at the beginning

Although image composition has some basic, general rules, it can also be quite subjective depending on the message you're trying to convey with your photo. Every image has a message, even snapshots and candid photos. The more simple your message, hopefully the easier the composition will be.

There are four elements that come into play when composing your image: tone, sharpness, scale, and arrangement. By controlling and taking advantage of each, you can make your composition speak to your audience. Let's look at each of these four elements in turn.


Tone is the brightness and contrast of your image, the interplay of light and shadow. By using light and shadow, you can focus attention on or draw attention away from your subject. You can use image tone to control where the viewer's eyes are directed, and even the mood of the photo. You can find more information on controlling lighting in "A guide to guide numbers" in the May 2004 issue of Connected Photographer Magazine,, and "Basic portrait lighting" in the July 2004 issue,


Like tone, sharpness can be used to direct where in the image you want the viewer's attention to be focused. By having your subject in focus, and the extraneous elements of the image blurred, the viewer will naturally be drawn to the item in focus. Depth of field will play a big part in how you control the sharpness of your image. For more information on depth of field, see "An in-depth guide to depth of field" in the May 2004 issue of Connected Photographer Magazine,