How to use Composition in Art and Photography in 10 simple steps.

Everybody has heard of composition in art and photography. But do you really use it? How much do you know about the fundamentals of it? This is what I am going to talk about today.

If your eyes are glazing over right now and you are getting ready to yawn, then you are not that different from me. I always though things had to be pure intuitive to be right. That you’re either born with that intuition or you are not. And clearly, I was born with something, which is the love to create, but not magically with the knowledge of doing composition well. As with most of us, I tried and tried to get my creations right and though I was not unhappy with the results, something was missing. Only after I admitted it, did I start to search for the answer to what that missing piece was. It was after I read some books about photography that I realized what that something was. It was composition. I realized, that not only in photography, but also in art, the same rules apply. This blog posts is going to be a guide to come back to whenever you need it. So, let’s begin.

1.The golden ratio.

The golden ratio is first and foremost a mathematical equation. It is mathematical speaking a+b/a=a/b=φ. Artistically it was used for instance by Le Corbusier and Dali in their work. It is also often described in the Fibonacci spiral. It is following the integer sequence, which is also called the Fibonacci sequence. In it every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones. So it is 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,35,55 and so on. If you are visual like me, this all doesn’t mean much until you see it.

Fibonacci Spiral.













Golden ratio.


If you are using the golden ratio, you will have used math to make a good piece of creation better. And it’s not that complicated as it sounds, isn’t it?

2.The rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds seems to be the most popular composition rules and it is often talked about. It’s easy to follow and it makes a big difference if you use it. It is simply a guideline that divides an image into nine equal parts through two equally spaces horizontal and vertical lines. The important visual points should be positioned at the intersection of these lines. You don’t have to find four elements to fit on those focal points, but your main one should lay on or close by one of these if you are using this composition tool.

The rule of thirds.













3.Keep it simple.

Keep it simple means to ask yourself what your main subject of your art or photo is. Try to make sure that there are not too many distracting objects around it, that take away from what you want to showcase in your creation. In photographs, that can mean to use blur the background, so the foreground becomes more prominent and the focus point.

Keep it simple.












4.Fill the frame.

Fill the frame is similar to the composition rule to keep it simple. Again, ask yourself what the focus is and then enlarge it so it fills the paper, photo, canvas or whatever else you are using for your creation. If there is a lot of space around it, the space becomes more prominent and the subject secondary. Fill the frame reverses that.

Fill the frame.
















No. I do not mean you should go frame your art or photo. Though it’s nice it’s not what I mean by framing. Framing simply means that you use either literally a frame, like a window somebody is looking through or an open door. It can also mean a frame of anything that is used to bring the subject into focus. It can be the branches of a tree for instance, or anything else that helps your main subject stand out.
















6.Horizontals and Verticals.

If you use this composition tool your horizontal lines or your vertical lines should be the main subject of your art. It could be trees for vertical lines or ocean waves for horizontals. You can also mix them, but the main composition will lay in those lines.

Horizontals and verticals.

7.Working with diagonals.

In working with diagonals in composition it is used to lead the viewer into the picture and should ideally lead to the main focal point of your creation.

8.Curves and leading lines.

Curves and leading lines can be diagonals or s-curves like roads that lead into the picture and again like in using diagonals it helps to lead the eye to the main subject.

Working with diagonals. Curves and leading lines.

9.Compositional balance.

Compositonal balance means that you balance your key subject in your art with a second one. For instance, if you have a main subject, try to make it large and balance it with a similar smaller subject. It also could be something like a reflection on the water, two boats, with one large in the foreground and one small in the background and so on.

Compositional Balance











10.Portrait vs landscape.

Portrait vs landscape can be used as a compositional tool for your creations. Like landscapes don’t always have to be painted in landscape format, portrait pictures don’t always have to use portrait format. Try to make your art more interesting by mixing it up.

Portrait vs Landscape













Now you have learned about ten composition rules or tools:

  1. The golden ratio.
  2. The rule of thirds.
  3. Keep it simple.
  4. Fill the frame.
  5. Framing.
  6. Horizontals and verticals.
  7. Working with diagonals.
  8. Curves and leading lines.
  9. Compositional balance.
  10. Portrait vs landscape.

Now there is only one more thing to do: Go use it! I challenge you to use one of these rules for the next ten projects you have. Incorporate them and comment with your creations below. And one more thing: Have fun!


One thought on “How to use Composition in Art and Photography in 10 simple steps.

  1. Deanne says:

    so good! so helpful! as a writer this was very helpful as guidance on pictures and what to look for when I select pictures for my blog, as well as when I take them. THANK YOU

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