What is Composition?

Composition is the arrangement of elements within a frame, which gives you the most powerful ability to attract the eye and hold it as long as possible. Edward Weston said it best, “Composition is the strongest way of seeing something.”

Basically, composition is all about keeping things simple and excluding what isn’t necessary to make your image appealing to the eye. You want to keep balancing what you get within your frame, when you strive for simpler and simpler, it makes your images stronger and stronger.

The last thing you want is a lot of random “junk” in your images, it makes them more distracting than appealing. Every time you raise your camera to make an image you should be creating your most basic and clean composition possible. Make your you don’t accidentally pick up items in the background or even the foreground. Branches, people, vehicles anything random like that will ruin your images and take away from the subject and story you are trying to say with your work.

If you practice simplicity and exclusion you will get to the point where it will become second nature for you as you shoot. Composition is all about getting the basic, underlying structure of an image to appeal on the most elemental portion of our subconscious mind. Doing this is what generates the “Wow” factor and catches the viewer’s attention. Take the image below, I shot this interior view for the leading lines going to the back of the room. The image is simple but give your eye a sense of depth and I made it black & white as I feel it makes the composition stronger. The below image is the interior of an abandoned building in Glascock County, Ga.


Composition is the organization of the elements within the frame and leads to the strongest cleanest image possible. Composition is not to be confused with framing, framing is what you do by zooming in and out or moving the camera up and down as you look through your viewfinder. Many photographers don’t realize this, but framing cannot do anything to change the relationship between objects in an image. The framing part is easy and you can usually frame an image after it’s shot by cropping.

The only way to change and optimize the arrangement of the elements in your image is to change your point-of-view and moving your camera to different locations. If you want to find the best composition then you need to move around, change your position, not merely the direction in which you point your camera. Never, ever confuse composition with framing, which is simply zooming in and our or pointing the camera or both.

Think of composition as when your girlfriend comes over and straightens all your magazines, cameras, dirty clothes and other stuff you left laying around the house. To you the mess made sense and you think the same thing about your compositions, which is why men tend to have the toughest time with composition. Most people set up for a shot in the most convenient spot and shoot away, zooming in and out and looking left and right, but that’s it. They figure they can fix it later in Photoshop or Lightroom, just like they’ll clean the house next week. Yes you can clean up your house next week, but once the shutter is closed, you cannot fix composition later. The only way to make a strong composition is to look through your viewfinder and make it as strong as possible before you ever press the shutter.

If you can, move the objects around or have your model move and re-position themselves to make the image as strong and appealing to the eye as possible. Keep your composition in mind at all times and you will make your best work! Now get out there and work on that composition.