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The Art of Photography: Accidental Composition



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A new series for photography enthusiasts.

Composition is the most important aspect of any photograph. The organization of elements needs to be visually appealing. If the composition is right, it will catapult a photograph from being amateur, to being in professional realms. Composition can be set up, but often the best composition is accidental.

Speaking as a nature photographer, you cannot always depend on the right conditions. You often have to work with nature and you may not always have the right weather, lighting, colours, textures or subject matter. Nature is subjective and if you take time to explore nature with no great expectations you will find beautiful things.

I have often been stunned by what I find whilst exploring nature. It is naive to plan what you want to photograph, you should try and detach yourself from planning and simply go out and see what you discover. You will often find wildlife you thought you would never see, plants you had no idea existed, people, places, surfaces and objects that you may have overlooked if you had used a concrete plan. I find if you abandon all expectations you get the best results.

There are many compositional rules you can look to for inspiration; visual artists and photographers often use these rules. What you must remember is a great image can only be achieved through the photographer; it is not about having the latest equipment. There is no point having all the gear if you have no idea of the basics. The digital age has made experimentation much easier in photography and you are entitled to enjoy it and create imagery, which is unique to you. However if confidence is lacking, the 7 rules listed below will help you on your way to creating exciting photography.

The rules are not essential and imagery is subjective, but you will eventually notice yourself using these rules subconsciously, making for interesting visual elements. The main idea of any creative practice is to make imagery you are inspired by and if you achieve this, other people will also be inspired.

Photographer: Stuart Russel

“Reflections 2011″
An example of what I call accidental composition, composition which is unplanned or unexpected. This image touches on the rule of thirds, leading lines and pattern. – Stuart Russell 


My Top 7 Rules of Composition 

Rule of Thirds:
Imagine your image is divided into 9 equal segments by 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines. Position the most important elements in your image along these lines, or at the points where they intersect (off centre). This will balance your image and add visual interest.

Take time to think about where you shoot a photograph. Our viewpoint has a huge impact on composition, and as a result it can greatly affect the message an image conveys. Consider shooting from high above, ground level, underneath, from the side, from the back, from far away or very close up.

Leading Lines:
Our eye is naturally drawn along lines. By thinking about how lines are placed in an image, you can affect the way we view the image. Lines can be straight, diagonal, radial, winding, curved etc. Lines can enhance a composition.

In nature there are many things that can be used to frame an image, such as trees, caves, archways and holes. By placing these around the edge of a composition you isolate the main subject and the result is a focused image, naturally drawing your eye to the main point of interest.

Balancing Elements:
Like the rule of thirds, placing your main subject off centre creates visual interest. To avoid an empty looking scene, balance the weight of your subject by including another object of lesser importance to balance the image.

Symmetry and Patterns:
Symmetry and patterns surround us and can make for very striking imagery, especially in situations where they are not expected. Often by breaking pattern or symmetry, you can introduce tension to an image.

If an object is very small it can often be lost among its surroundings. By cropping around the subject you can eliminate background noise, ensuring the viewers attention on the selected object.