Principles of Composition

Charles Fort, Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland.

Charles Fort, Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland.

Previous article in this series: Finding the Frame

The principles and elements of design first came to my attention years ago when I began studying horticulture and landscaping. We learned that there are certain concepts and arrangements that contribute to making a garden design appealing. These principles are largely universal no matter where the subject of your creative expression lies. Whether you are creating a garden, designing a dress, painting a landscape or taking a photograph, there are some common principles involved, principles that will  ideally shape the elements of design into a delightful, artful whole.

Kurimoto Japanese Garden, Devonian Gardens, Alberta.

Kurimoto Japanese Garden, Devonian Gardens, Alberta.

Understanding the principles of composition is one way of improving your photography. Although there are successful photographers who have never heard or cared about systems for creativity, if you examine their images you will often find that they inadvertently follow at least some of them. There will be simpler composition ideas presented later, however, an understanding of the principles and elements of composition will help give a visual language to those who are struggling with what makes a well-composed photograph. Each post will include exceptional public domain images, along with my own photos and sometimes illustrations, all of which will hopefully add up to a better understanding of what makes images memorable.

Diving at the Valley Baths, Brisbane, Queensland, 1938

Diving in. The Valley Baths, Brisbane, Queensland, 1938. Photographer unknown. (State Library of Queensland)

If you search Principles of Design you will find variations of the following list, where I have (tentatively for now) formed some groupings of similar concepts:

  • Balance and Symmetry
  • Dominance/Emphasis
  • Hierarchy/Gradation
  • Centre of Interest/Focal Point
  • Movement/Direction
  • Unity/Harmony
  • Scale/Proportion
  • Contrast
  • Variety
  • Pattern/Repetition and Rhythm

Some notes about this series:
Because the material to be covered is quite extensive, I’ll spread the items on the list over a few blog posts to give them the space they deserve. After covering the principles, I’ll move on to the elements of design that they work with. Eventually, all the images I’ve posted in this series so far will be analyzed using the elements and principles we have covered. Keep in mind that any successful photograph can use many of the principles/elements that will be discussed here. And finally, because I am still learning, each post in this series will be open to being updated at any time.

Next: Composition Principles: Balance and Symmetry.

(Note: the latest books that I have viewed about this subject area are Michael Freeman’s, The Photographer’s Eye: A Graphic Guide and David DuChemin’s, Photographically Speaking ~ A Deeper Look At Creating Stronger Images. Other influences, references, and resources will be found in in-line links, so pay attention to those as you go through the articles.)

This entry was posted in Abstract, Alberta, Architecture, Black and white, Canada, Composition, Garden, HDR, History, how-to, Inspiration, Ireland, Photographic Composition Online Course, Photography, Season, Summer and tagged , , , , .

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