Compositional elements of photography – creating your perfect picture

It really doesn’t matter if your picture is technically perfect in every way if it is compositionally boring you have wasted your time. More importantly, you may lose the whole context of your story. The whole purpose of a picture is to tell the story, your story. Just like employing proper spelling, grammar, and syntax you need to have effective composition. Luckily, we can help you with the compositional elements of photography. We can help you in creating your perfect picture.


Crop inside your camera viewing screen

The easiest and most important compositional element is to make sure that you capture exactly what you want the first time. That means that you don’t have too much or too little information in the picture. For example, here we see a picture of my brother, dad, and I standing in front of a cathedral in France.

If the story is to show a family portrait, I would say that this is a failure. If the intent is to show that we are travelling and sightseeing at a cathedral, this is passable. A family portrait needs to be up close and personal. Unless of course you are creating a lifestyle portrait. On the other hand, if the intent is to create a travel photograph, we need to focus on the cathedral.

It’s all about the story, homing in on exactly what you want to say. When you crop, do it in the camera viewer if possible. Before we go any further, I want to make it crystal clear, rules are meant to be broken. But before we go further, we need to know the rules.

Rule of Thirds

Imagine this grid over your viewfinder or canvas or paper.  The paper is divided into thirds each way equally.  An interesting (point of emphasis) subject/object should be placed on one of the red “+” areas.  Other elements in the photo or picture should not distract from this main point of emphasis.

Horizontal Happiness

I call it horizontal happiness because it is laid back. Horizontal composition gives a sense of peace, restful and zen-like. In order to make this feeling happen, it is essential for you to make absolutely certain that you have your scene perfectly level. If it isn’t level, it will not work.

Vertical Mass

Whenever you want to show strength and power, you want a vertical composition. It forces a person to go against the grain and read the image from top to bottom as opposed to the traditional left to right.

Western Diagonal

A western diagonal is a compositional tool used to lead the viewer’s eye in the direction you want them to go. This technique has a natural flow from upper left to lower right, in the same direction as reading.

Arabic Diagonal

Is the very same effect as the Western Diagonal but goes in the opposite direction. It’s called Arabic because it reads right to left. Due to the fact that it goes opposite to how we normally read a document, it seems to arrest the viewer’s attention.

“S” Curve

It has two forms of angle top left to bottom right or bottom left to top right. It is very lyrical and a great tool.



 CA circular composition is one of the oldest and primitive of compositions. Circles are all around us, they are power, unending, primordial, and symbolic.

Your composition should drag your viewer through the photograph. Our eyes are pulled along these lines and our story unfolds. So, you can see all these diverse lines – straight, diagonal, curvaceous, winding, and radial lines make for a more spellbinding narrative.

4 thoughts on “Compositional elements of photography – creating your perfect picture

  1. Amanda

    This was very informative as I love photography and was not aware of these terms or what they imply. So very happy to have found this great resource.

  2. Brian

    I am an amateur photographer; I love this article you let me know what I need to notice before I shot photos. Use camera to speak a story is interesting, thank you for sharing!


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