Elements of Photographic Composition

By on May 8, 2013 — Updated on September 10, 2013

One time, my friend took me a picture and after that, she and me the camera to shoot her. I was still trying examining the view in the frame when she shout, “Why it take you such a long time to take a picture?”

“I was still trying to see a better composition,” I replied. I am not sure whether she understood what I meant or not. I heard no words from her.

Pressing the shutter button of a digital camera is very easy but capture a better photo is a different story. You need to examine what to include in the image and what to discard.

A photo says thousands of words but not all photos tell a meaningful story.

For us to produce a better composition, we need to know fundamentals of composition and let us start with its elements.



Colors are lovely to see, they the universe more beautiful. Producing the right colors in your photograph is one of the challenging skills you need to master if you are aiming to producing a particular tone in your output. Remember that the white balance setting of your camera greatly affect the color temperature of you photo. In an infrared technique, colors in your shots are really different from the real scene.


Form (3D): sphere, cube, pyramid, cylinder and etc. The difference that you can quickly spot between shape and form is the dimension, shape is two-dimensional while form is three-dimensional. However, you can apply best depth in your photo when you capture forms than shapes.


Lines in visual arts have different types: vertical, horizontal, curve, jagged, spiral, zigzag and imaginary. Like colors lines have psychological meaning like for example the horizontal line signifies calmness and diagonal line mean dynamism. Don’t forget that this element is the reason why we have the so called “Leading Line Rule” in photography.


Shape (2D): circle, oval, square, rectangle, triangle, polygon, irregular shape. There times that shapes are not seen as what we expect. Sometimes it can be seen in the formation of the objects within your frame or sometimes in your background. When you look through your viewfinder, try to see what shape you can include in your composition before you release your shutter.


Size refers to how small or big is an object. One of the techniques on showing the size of your subject in a photograph is to shoot your subject together with other comparable objects in its surrounding which the size commonly known to everyone. Your viewer could easily imagine how is the wooden statue when you photograph it with real man standing beside it than taking a photograph of the statue alone.


Space is where everything placed and where you can find your subject. Sometime it is referred as the “room”. When you are inside your bed room or inside the building you are in a limited or enclosed space and you are outside with no boundaries, you are in the open space. The space will give depth to you photograph.


Texture is the softness or the roughness of a surface. Many photographers love to shot highly rough surfaces in macro to depict rhythm and pattern. (The symbol of auto macro setting in your camera is like a tulip flower with two leaves.) In photography, can texture can only be visually represented.


Value this is the lightness or the darkness in some parts of your subjects caused by light. In the principle of colors, value is obtained by adding white or black to “hue”. Then, the light part is called “tint” and dark part is called “shade”. While in photography, the value depends on the intensity of light and shadow.

Each of these element has special roles on have better composition. It is you part as photographer to discover how will use them achieve better result.

Feature image: By brokenchopstick (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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