Good composition is hard to describe. My favourite definition comes from Edward Weston: “the strongest way of seeing.”
In my far less eloquent words, it is about the position and layout of elements within a scene.
So where do you start? How do you go about creating good composition? There are different techniques to help get you started but I’m going to explain one of the most common: the rule of thirds.
Viewing the world in thirds
The concept is simple. As you look through the viewfinder imagine the screen is divided into a grid of nine identical rectangles – created by two vertical and two horizontal lines.
The principle behind the rule of thirds is that when composing a scene you should try and position an integral element on one of the four points where those lines intersect.
So if you’re shooting a landscape with a dominant foreground object like a rock, the idea is to have that positioned on one of those four points to help create strong composition.
Some cameras – and even phones – allow you to turn this mode on to help you out and it is something I recommend when starting out. Before long you will find yourself instinctively viewing the world in thirds.
Disclaimer: it is not a rule
If you’re just getting to grips with composition then the rule of thirds is a really good starting point. But remember, despite its name, it is not the only way and it is OK not to abide by it.
Every scene is unique and there are different compositional techniques that might be more appropriate. Ultimately it is about using the technique that creates the strongest possible photograph.
So whilst it is useful to know about the rule of thirds and how to apply it, don’t feel you have to use it in every instance. Rules, after all, are designed to be broken; you just have to learn them first.