A place to think about composition in photography


Lifeboat House, Norfolk

If you’ve ever been disappointed with an overcast cloudy sky, it is worth noting that the calm even light is very good for details in a landscape.


Ghost at the Tate Modern


Translucent glass at night makes for some attention grabbing photographs.  This one was taken with my iPhone outside the Tate Modern in London.  I’d been in to get my fix of the Rothko paintings, I find them deeply calming and never tire of them.  When I came out it was dark and as I walked down the side of the building this window caught my eye.  People occasionally walked past on the other side. There was something other worldly about the way the figures moved on the other side of the frosted glass.  As for the composition, I pondered whether to remove the vertical lines, and dark square shape at the bottom right.  I decided to leave them in as they connect and frame the main elements of the picture.  Namely the warm light, the figure the light rectangle in the background and dark black square in the foreground.  There is a slightly sinister touch of mystery that I find appealing about this picture.  Hope you like it too.

Breaking the rules: Just use the edge of a photograph

For successful pictures, conventional wisdom on composition dictates that you need:

  • Foreground, to contain detail
  • Middle ground, to convey depth
  • Background, to add context

Then you need:

  • Lead-in lines to further create depth and guide the eye through the picture
  • Colour contrast for interest, if a green landscape, add something red.
  • Use the golden section to set the dimensions of the image and place points of interest within it for beauty.

Hmmm..  this is all very nice and will produce pleasing images. However:

  • Everyone learns these rules in the same way, from textbooks, magazines and how-to sites
  • or..
  • We absorb these rules by looking at images that surround us, particularly those that win competitions

So many pictures, and yet isn’t it surprising that so few are memorable?

So much for the words, how about putting into action, I hear you say..

Well, how about this picture:

The photographer and the lamp post IMG_0029b

Using only the edges of a picture IMG_0029b

This follows few, if any of those rules,  It shouldn’t work, but it does.

On another level, I wonder how the photograph he is taking of her came out?

Learn the conventional wisdom or rules, such as they are.  Then you are in an informed position to try something new.

If it works for you, tell me about it, I’d be fascinated to see what you create.

The ghost on the bridge

I’m realising that questionning the assumption of sharpness in photography can be quite liberating.

Here is another straight shot:

The Ghost on the Bridge

The Ghost on the Bridge

I’m interested in what you think.


Increasing the tension in a picture

The landscape view

I liked this view of the boat, looking at it from below against a blue sky is an effective device.

Isolating the prow of the ship and including the mooring lines in the frame helps create a simple composition.

There is literal tension from your knowledge as a viewer that the mooring lines are stretched taut:

Picture of white ship against a blue sky

Landscape picture of a moored boat

The Portrait View

I like this view even more.

Using the portrait format allows an even more dynamic view.

The tension in the picture is increased because including more of the mooring lines makes it look as though the ship is rearing upwards trying to pull free from its restraints.

portrait picture of a moored boat

portrait picture of a moored boat

Which of these two landscapes do you prefer?

I was prompted to go out and take these pictures this weekend partly because the weather had improved and the skies were more interesting than the dull grey cloud we have had for the last few weeks.

The other reason was one of my friends suggested I try comparing photographs that I thought worked well with those that didn’t work quite so well.  I’d like to see if your opinion is the same as mine.

So, here are two photographs taken within seconds of each other

The Landscape format

Path near Burnsall February  (Landscape Format)

Path near Burnsall February (Landscape Format)

The Portrait format


Path near Burnsall in February

Path near Burnsall in February (Portrait Format)

Please feel free to leave comments as well as add to the poll


Is Photographic Composition Absolute or Relative?

A good friend of mine mentioned that i should include pictures that did not work well as a comparison to those I thought did work.


This set me thinking……. there are “rules” of composition but are these:

  • Absolute – fixed unmovable points.  baselines from which you can all work
  • or
  • Relative – subjective and infinitely variable depending on the context in which they are viewed.

I’m curious to know what you think