Never again boring pictures. The composition and focus of an image have an influence on the effect of an image and its message. If you follow a few rules when taking pictures, you can turn inconsequential snapshots into meaningful, emotional photos.
Images have an elementary effect, they are "quick shots to the brain". This is because the viewer of a picture needs only about one hundredth of a second to grasp an image. So no matter how quickly you look away – something always gets stuck in your head. With a well thought-out image composition you can use this fact to your advantage.
Table of contents:
Pictures and emotions
Images can inform, shock, move, frighten, reassure. Pictures can tell stories; they almost always arouse certain feelings. What these are depends on what has already been seen and on personal experience. People remember pictures more easily than texts. They have a direct influence on our thinking and our behavior.
When we take pictures, it can be an emotional moment for us. We bring a mood and we feel something specific at the moment of recording. The camera does not do that, it photographs, and it does so objectively. This is one of the reasons why we are surprised when, in retrospect, the images are much less spectacular, exciting, thrilling, or touching than we felt at the moment we took the picture.
In addition, there are smells, changes in light, or sounds that we perceive at the moment the picture is taken – a picture cannot reproduce all of this per se. Another point: the image is only two-dimensional, but the scene was chosen as a photo subject with our human, three-dimensional eye. In this respect, it is always an exciting challenge to fill a picture with the life and feelings with which we photographed it.
But with a few tricks you can better appeal to the viewer’s emotions, work with additional depth and fill your images with life and emotion.
Image composition: the format
Landscape format is fundamentally more similar to human vision than portrait format – our eyes are next to each other, not on top of each other. Thus, the landscape format feels more familiar and ordinary, but also calmer and more balanced. The portrait format is more unusual and dynamic, but also tends to be perceived as unstable.
In any case, you create tension when you combine the formats: A typical portrait motif such as a high house, photographed in landscape format, or a typical landscape motif such as the sunset over the sea, photographed in portrait format, attract attention.
Apart from the effect, you should also consider the subsequent use of the images: Those who take pictures for online use, such as presentations on the screen, primarily need the landscape format.
The sunset with birds looks relaxing atmospheric in landscape format, but also a bit ordinary
In portrait format, the shot conveys much more tension and liveliness
Image composition: the subject
"Just snap it" does not usually make for successful shots. First, be clear about what you want to capture. Ask yourself about the subject. What or whom is your gaze – and later the viewer’s gaze?? What is your focus, what do you want to show, what do you want to concentrate on? Of course, it is also possible that there are several subjects in one picture. However, it is always helpful to decide beforehand which subject is the main actor and who gets the supporting roles.
Too many people, too many equals in the picture – the message is not clearly recognizable
If the clear motive is missing, one asks oneself more or less unconsciously the question about the statement of the picture. Almost all people are equally sharp at the top of the picture, which means that neither depth nor focus can take place; the heads are in two rows at the same height, which gives the picture neither dynamics nor tension.
The composition is harmonious, the image dynamic
By lining up the people, a dynamic is created, the viewer’s gaze is guided from the left front to the right back. Motifs in the foreground like the tree trunk with leaf and the blurred trees in the background give the picture depth. All four people are in focus and clearly identifiable as a motif.
By the way, a natural frame gives your subject a foothold and makes the viewer feel safe not to pay attention to the "wrong" spot.
Sometimes "natural frames" offer themselves for image composition – use them!
The frame provides a clear focus in the picture.
The rule of thirds creates tension in the picture
Centrally placed motifs can appear as boring and tensionless as a horizon in the middle of the picture. So shift for a successful picture composition the main subject from the center, and immediately the picture becomes more vivid.
Shifting is achieved by changing your point of view or the camera’s point of view. Look more closely at the motif or motifs, perceive their surroundings and move yourself and your camera.
Often you move the subject from the center of the picture to the right place by feel. And for those who need a little guidance, use the Rule of thirdsHere the image is divided by two horizontal and two vertical lines. This creates nine parts of equal size.
The main subject is now placed at the intersection points or along the lines. Already it is out of the center and brings liveliness into the picture.
Image design examples with the rule of thirds
The main part of the face is placed according to the rule of thirds, the picture looks lively and harmonious
The design grid of the rule of thirds
A nice shot – but somehow the "pep" is missing
With the paraglider in the middle of the picture this is an impressive shot, but somehow something is missing.
Already better: the picture looks more alive ..
If you move the paraglider to the right according to the rule of thirds, you can feel the updraft better. However, some width is lost here.
… but it becomes really harmonious if the main subject is located in the left third
The offset to the left reinstates the rule of thirds and also brings more width into the picture due to the limited section of the mountain in front on the left.
If the photo is already taken, sometimes a simple trick helps to change the composition of the picture:
With almost any image editing program, a photo can be cropped afterwards. This is how you can elegantly change the image section.
The golden ratio: its strength is its harmony
Similar, but a bit more complex is the Golden Section. The golden ratio is a division ratio that was already used in ancient times by painters, sculptors and architects. The human eye finds this ratio particularly harmonious and attractive, which is why you can also use a golden section in type area design.
If you get involved and pay attention to this "divine proportion", you can discover it everywhere in nature. Flower seeds, the drawings of leaves and the drawings of many animals show the division. By the way, the human body is also divided according to the Golden Section.
Harmonic ratio according to the golden section
The ratio of the golden section, i.e. the golden number, is 1.61. Imagine a horizontal line. On this line make a small vertical line that divides this horizontal line into two parts. The vertical line is set in such a way that the smaller part of the line relates to the larger part as the larger part relates to the entire line.
That’s what it’s all about – the relationship of these two parts to each other. Regarding the image division, it can be stated that the motif placement with the golden section comes to similar results as the one by dividing by thirds. Basically, it is said that the strength of the golden section lies in its greater harmony, the strength of the division into thirds in the image tension.
A picture taken approximately according to both proportions.
The golden section, here in the form of the golden spiral, can be found everywhere in nature if you take a closer look.
One of the most famous Golden Spirals is the shell of certain marine animals (Nautilidae)
The horizon: straight and not centered
The horizon plays an important role in the composition of a picture, since it divides most pictures into two parts, namely the sky and the earth. It also lets you see from which point the picture was taken, which creates a relation for the viewer.
According to the golden section resp. The rule of thirds also applies here: a horizon placed in the center of the image usually quickly makes the image boring and divides the image in two in a way that is not intended. In addition, with a centered horizon, you can’t emphasize one part or another of the image or add weight to the subject.
If, on the other hand, you place the horizon in the lower third, the upper area, i.e. the sky, will be emphasized, and the image will have more width. Moving the horizon upwards emphasizes the lower area, i.e. the earth. As long as there is enough interesting stuff to see, this would be the right choice – however, the variant of giving the sky the two-thirds is quite more common.
Pictures of the sea are often taken so that the horizon line is in the center
In the example image above, the horizon is in the center of the image. This makes the shot look a bit indecisive.
A slight offset of the line creates more tension – and emphasizes the cloudy sky
Here it has been shifted downwards; the focus is on the sky, the picture conveys the feeling of space and freedom.
An offset in the other direction, on the other hand, emphasizes the sea
Here the horizon was shifted upwards, we feel the power and the roar of the nearby waves.
The horizon in the middle? Exceptionally
Every rule has an exception, and so does the horizon rule: certain pictures demand that the horizon be centered – namely, those in which symmetry is played with. This is the case, for example, with the motif of a mountain or a skyline reflected in the water.
One of the few exceptions where a centrally placed horizon is advantageous
You surely know the feeling – the sunset over the sea with a slightly slanted horizon causes discomfort when looking at it. We are always automatically looking for a straight horizon, and a slightly slanted horizon initially looks "wrong" and badly done. A slanted horizon should therefore only be used in exceptional cases and then serve as a stylistic device; its slope should be large enough so that it is immediately clear that it is not an oversight.
Staggering for depth
Staggering or depth staggering is when different planes or objects are placed one behind the other to create optical depth. One subject in the foreground, one in the middle and one in the background gives the viewer a feeling of depth and liveliness.
Three planes are seen here: The cows, the forest and the sky. Staggering creates the feeling of depth
Vanishing points for the line of sight
Optically imagined diagonal lines also create spatial depth in the image composition. The so-called vanishing lines contribute to the tension of the image and guide the viewer’s eye. As a photographer, you can use vanishing lines and vanishing points to influence where the viewer looks.
The seemingly endless Road 66, which leads through the desert-like west of the USA, certainly does not become narrower at the end of the horizon – but it appears that way when we look at it from a certain angle and at a certain distance. In reality straight respectively. parallel lines become vanishing lines in the picture, which in turn converge on a vanishing point. The vanishing point or. but the vanishing points can also be outside the image. Depending on the image subject, the vanishing lines and vanishing points can be well or less well recognizable; in geometric subjects such as architectural shots, for example, this can be worked with well.
Image composition with the help of the vanishing point
The perspective gives the images a spatial impression and makes them look realistic. The vanishing point is on the horizon, here all elements converge.
If the vanishing point is in the center of the image, it is a central perspective – depending on the subject and distribution, it is an aesthetic design tool in photography.
If there are many vanishing lines in the picture, the central perspective can be attractive
The vanishing point is horizontally and vertically seen in the middle of the picture. This is unusual and contradicts the rule of thirds and the golden ratio, but in individual cases like this it can have its own appeal.
The frog perspective and the bird’s-eye view
Changing one’s perspective can cause great changes, not only, but also when taking a picture. A change of perspective can completely change the image’s message. Subjects that seem boring at first glance come to life when photographed from a bird’s-eye view from above or from a frog’s-eye view from below. Shot in frog perspective, objects automatically appear larger; associations with size, power, and menace can emerge. Accordingly, the motifs on the bird’s-eye view appear smaller in any case and partly distorted or compressed; possible associations when looking at them are submissiveness or suppression.
Here was not only photographed in frog perspective, but also played with the light and depth of field.
Depth with the depth of field
Depth of field, also known as depth of field, is the area in an image that is in focus. The transition between sharpness and blurriness is fluid. Due to the blurred areas, the viewer’s gaze is directed and focused on the sharp areas.
The higher the aperture, the smaller the aperture – and the larger the area that is in focus. Conversely, the smaller the aperture, the larger the aperture opening and the smaller the area that is in focus. But also the distance to the subject influences the depth of field: The smaller the distance to the subject, the smaller is the sharp area.
Basically, of course, the game with depth of field only works if subjects are at different distances from the camera, because only then can the different sharpness arise.
A great and deliberately used depth (in)of field effect; the image could be used for the image brochure of a seed manufacturer, for example
Playing with depth of field can change the impression enormously. Pictures can get a clear focus, they look more realistic, more alive.
Symmetry is created by repetition
The repetition of objects and elements, regardless of whether they are symmetrical or not. Being even or not, creates a harmonious and at the same time delightful effect. This could be repetition of textures and objects, but also highlights and shadows or objects.
The repetitions provide harmony in the picture
The screens, which are not necessarily symmetrically arranged, nevertheless appear harmonious due to their repetition. The shot becomes even more dynamic if we shift the horizon according to the rule of thirds.
The horizon has been slightly shifted, now the sky takes up almost two thirds of the surface (image composition with repetition and rule of thirds)
Harmony through symmetrical motifs
Similar to repeating patterns, capturing symmetrical parts of the subject can look especially harmonious and aesthetic. Symmetry, however, always includes the danger of boredom. Pay attention to the subject and possibly change the perspective for the composition of the image to maintain the image tension.
The symmetrical division seems very harmonious, but can also end in boredom.
People in pictures attract the attention of viewers more than pure landscape or object photographs. Shooting people is a special art that requires a delicate touch. Here not only the environment, the light, the distance, the composition and the perspective must be right, but not least the mood between photographer and model, so that the character and the essence of the model can be felt.
The decisive factor in portrait photography is the image detail. The smaller the crop, the more the background disappears and the more important the person appears and the more relevant their facial expressions become – until the whole thing tips over: when a cheek or nose is shown, the person again loses their importance in the picture.
Basically, for a portrait from the front, you should have a minimally elevated stance to the model. Cropping heads in portrait photography is a popular stylistic device. This is done by cropping the forehead or chin, and cropping from one vertical and one horizontal side is also often a good idea. But please do not crop on more than two sides and please do not crop opposite sides at the same time. And if you crop on all four sides, you will quickly be reminded of a picture from a police file.
A portrait. We look at the spatial arrangement.
Through the grid we see that here the rule of thirds was used.
Here the background has been severely limited, we focus on the model. But the shot looks a bit boring, the focus is in the middle.
Here the forehead was slightly cropped – already some tension comes into the picture.
A crop at the top and right is also possible, the model also gains importance and presence through the closeness.
Cropping the face from opposite sides, here left and right, is not recommended.
Cropping on all four sides is not advantageous in most cases.
Direction of view
If the model is not looking at the camera, but at another place, the viewer’s gaze follows the model’s gaze. Thus the direction of the model’s gaze guides that of the viewer. So pay attention to where the model is looking – even if they are not pure portraits, this effect occurs. You can use it to direct the viewer’s gaze towards something. So if the model is standing close to the edge of the frame and looking out of the frame, the gaze leaves the frame and the model can quickly look disinterested. The viewer’s gaze then follows the model’s gaze and also quickly leaves the picture, and the viewer loses interest.
The viewer’s gaze follows that of the model. This can be used to place info etc.
Offset eye level
When taking pictures of several people, the heads should not be at the same height, but better aligned according to a triangle. This brings dynamics into the picture. A composition in which the apex of the imaginary triangle points downward tends to create an unstable impression; if the imaginary apex points upward, the shot looks active but stable.
Black and white photography
Black and white images can have a very special charm. However, not every subject is suitable for black-and-white photography. Due to the lack of colors, you have to work with structures, lines and patterns, with contrasts, light and shadow. The contrast of light and dark creates the image. At the same time, the viewer is not distracted by the colors and can focus entirely on the objects, textures and compositions.
Working with light and textures creates a fascinating black and white portrait.
Sepia photography is a subset of monochrome photography. Its characteristics are the brown tones that extend over the entire image and convey associations with old photographs. While sepia photography used to be a darkroom technique, today’s photo editing programs offer sepia filters that are simply applied to an existing image.
Tips for an exciting image composition
Finally, a few tips on what to aim for or avoid when composing an image.
- Clarity: Bring clarity to the image. Make it clear what the message is and who the main character is
- Dynamics: With a Wide angle lens together with short focal lengths, pictures look exciting and dramatic (but they are also distorted)
- Depth of field : With a large aperture you limit the sharpness and can almost create a three dimensional impression
- Foreground: Even when shooting a mountain or a lake, a blade of grass or a branch sticking into the picture freshens up the image
- Frame: Look for natural frames: A landscape shot through the brick window of a castle or portrait framed by out-of-focus leaves make for a good hold
- Effects: For moving subjects like moving cars, the first or. the second shutter curtain to add a motion effect to the image. A camera setting determines whether the camera flashes at the beginning or end of the exposure. If the subject moves during the exposure, the subject is intentionally blurred. Especially when the flash is synchronized with the first curtain, it can create unusual-looking, interesting moments of movement in the image
- Unnecessary elements: In general, avoid unnecessary elements in the picture, disturbing picture elements at the edge you may be able to. simply crop afterwards
- Showstopper: Pay attention to the background and the outer frame when composing the image. If a lamppost grows out of a person’s shoulder, even the most beautiful motif is lost
- set of images: In digital photography you can take almost as many shots as you like. But sort out rigorously afterwards and keep only really successful pictures
Images: Konvexi, enriquelopezgarre, Free-Photos, rmt, JACLOU-DL, krzysztofniewolnyy, jplenio, rottonara, ThomasWolter via Pixabay; fokke baarssen, Lorna Roberts, metriognome, biletskiy, antb, Nathan Danks, Dunaev Ilya, ESB Professional via Shutterstock; also Claudia Korthaus and Wikipedia