What is a strong composition? Most of the advanced photographers who come to me end up asking this question.
In simple words – A strong composition is the one that puts your idea clearly. Ansel Adams has said, ‘There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.’
Visualize your image, make sure that it says what you want it to say and then press the shutter-release button. Keep your composition simple. Anything that is not contributing to a image is taking something away from it. Composition is about placing the main elements of the subject in a manner that the viewer’s eyes follow the same path as the photographer had intended to. Eye move from primary to secondary elements and lead to the generation of same emotions that the photographer might have felt. Composition is the art behind photography.
(Each and every element has to contribute to the final image. Here in this photograph the stone pathway, with the buttresses supporting the structure on the right side, a distant church and three people on the left in dark shadows … everything contributes to the image. Without the people, the scale would be lost and the path will look deserted. Without the distant church, the destination will not be visible. The butresses frame the pathway giving it a completeness. Even the old and new metallic drain pipes give an idea of sustainance of the structure. Photographed with an inexpensive compact camera.)
Composition is made up of interaction of various elements with each other and the space around them, their placements. It includes the impact of camera and lens settings to show various elements that reflect the form, pattern, lines, texture, hues and also the meaning behind the captured moment and much more beyond that moment. A strong composition tells a story. It captures the attention of the viewer, holds it and guides it across the frame. A strong composition holds all the elements together and does not have anything extra which is not required in the photograph. The various elements then form a relationship with each other which may be harmonious or contradictory to create drama. A strong composition is where photography starts to go hand in hand with fine art.
Our eyes see things differently. Everything that looks good to us may not be even an average composition. I have seen the best of best photographers use a wide-angle lens to get everything in when they see a beautiful landscape. The resulting pictures are beautiful but seldom strong. I’ll happily use them to send postcards back home (Very few of us remember the picture post-cards now a days). I’ll, however, not hang canvas prints of them in my living room. What went wrong? The photographers got carried away by the overwhelming beauty of the nature, by what the eyes saw and the body felt. The fine soothing breeze, the smell of moist grass, freshness of the forest area, sound of the fluttering leaves occasionally dotted with chirps of the birds. Unfortunately the photograph did not have all this. My suggestion – enjoy the nature but when you are making the photograph think of only the image.
A strong composition is not always the most obvious. A closeup of an old lady’s hand joined in prayer with prayer-beads hanging from them maybe a strong image but it will not show the beauty of her sharp eyes or peaceful face. Decide on what you want to show. As I had said before, composition is the strongest tool in presenting your ideas to the viewer.
For me a strong composition is the one that conveys what I want to portray with maximum clarity of thought.
One of my favorite photos because of the memories associated with it of the fine drizzle and breeze and the long awaited holiday after a hectic season of work. The composition does not show the breeze, drizzle and the relaxation that my family had felt on this holiday.
Edit: Based on feedback from some of my readers, I have added some articles on composition rules. I call them clichés. Visit these links –