The Art of Photography – Composition

My name is Ted Forbes and I make videos about photography. I’ve been making photographs most of my life and I have a tremendously deep passion for photography that I want to share with you on YouTube. The Art of Photography is my channel and I produce photography videos to provide a 360 degree look into the world of making images. We all want to get better so let’s do this together!

I make videos covering famous photographers, photography techniques, composition, the history of photography and much more. I also have a strong community of photographers who watch the show and we frequently do social media challenges for photographers to submit their own work. I feature the best and most interesting on the show when we do these so come check it out and get involved!

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Photography Composition

This is a mini-series on composition techniques by Ted Forbes. In this video series, Ted takes a compositional technique and explores it. In addition, he will look at images that exploit the technique and finally will leave you with an assignment exercise so you can start to work the technique being discussed into your own work.


Create 5 different images experimenting with different aspects of line. Try to make these as minimal as possible to really bring out the emphasis on using line. You’re going to create 5 different images using:

1) Vertical Lines

2) Horizontal Lines

3) Diagonal Lines

4) Organic Lines

5) Implied Lines

The implied will likely be the most difficult and the one that will take the most thought. I recommend you work with people as this will be the most obvious, but if you want to up the difficulty a little, try using still objects.

In this video we’ll look at techniques for creating interest with shape in composition You can follow the composition blog to see written versions of all of the composition lessons we are working on. I think of shape as falling into 7 different categories of treatments. These include:

  • Cropping
  • Scale
  • Fragmentation
  • Focus
  • Lighting
  • Metaphor

Shapes are typically defined by line – particularly line as the boundary. Using the techniques here are ways of creating interesting compositions by making your own decisions on how to display the visual subject and information.

In this video, we will talk about 2 concepts for visual composition, simplification and negative space.

Simplification is the reduction of elements in the composition to only what is necessary for the picture. It’s a concept very difficult for photographers for a number of reasons. If you are creating the art – in other words, you are drawing or painting, it’s more natural not to add things to the composition that aren’t important. But as photographers – particularly if you’re not in a studio, we don’t have the ability often to physically remove objects from what we are photographing. This means sometimes you have to reconsider your angle, point of view or any number of changes to the way you’re shooting that will interrupt your normal process. This can be quite difficult.

For example, if you’re shooting a landscape and there is a street light in the frame, the light might be more distracting to the composition than needed. This is an obvious example, but say you’re doing architectural work. Are there chairs in the composition? Do they need to be there? Is their placement complementing what you are trying to say with the image? Simplification is pairing down subjects to only the essential.

It’s worth noting that this sounds like minimalism. While reducing elements is a big part of minimalism, it doesn’t imply that your photograph is minimalist. On the base level, it simply means that everything in the composition is there to serve a purpose and no element is distracting.

The second technique we’ll cover in this video is “negative space”. Negative space is simply areas of low texture or activity that contrast the subject and allow it to “breathe”. This is very natural to how we exist as humans. Being in a situation that’s too crowded can make us feel stifled or claustrophobic. Images are similar. We create interest by allowing things room. This also creates impact and gives importance to subjects that contrast this negative space. Negative space can be simple backgrounds, skies, flat colours, black, white, etc. These techniques are quite simple, but they are both surprisingly difficult to get a handle on – particularly for photographers.

Photography Composition :: Simplification and Negative Space

Continuing on with our composition series – in this video, we’ll be discussing the Rule of Odds.

A quick note about “rules” – I don’t particularly care for the term “rule” because of the implication that it must be adhered to for a composition to work. This is not true at all. Rather than rules – think of them as guidelines for creating interest in a composition. Use them when you need to create that interest – blow them off when you don’t.

Having said that though – practice all of these rules as we go through them with your own camera and photography. Having them become second nature is essential to moving forward in your own abilities.

The Rule of Odds states that framing your subject with 2 surrounding objects (thus creating an odd number of 3) suggests balance and harmony visually. We tend to prefer balance and feel comfortable with these groupings of 3. Groups of 2 or 4 can sometimes create a sense of competition whereas the odd groupings tend to balance that a bit. This is a very subjective rule, but it does create balance.

Remember though that odd numbers really just refer to the number 3. Objects of 5 or more create more density than the viewer will perceive and the effect is null at that point. Larger numbers of objects, however, can be divided visually into groupings of 3, thus bringing more cohesion to the composition.

Continuing on with our composition series, we’ll move to today’s instalment – Rule of Thirds.

The rule of thirds is quite simple. I covered this before in Episode 5, but since it’s been a while and for the sake of continuity, we’re going to cover it again in this series.

For the rule of thirds, you need to mentally learn how to subdivide your composition into 3 sections (2 lines) vertically and then again horizontally. Mentally this forms a grid of 6 spaces. The Rule of Thirds states that the 4 points where these lines intersect are points of interest. You want to place subjects on these points of interests to create a sense of balance in your composition. The use of these points creates a sense of tension, interest and energy in the composition as opposed to placing the subject dead centre. It could also be argued that our perception as humans has become accustomed to this technique having seen it in painting, design and other forms of composition. I would personally argue that it creates more balance than it does the tension, but either way, it is a formal way of creating order in your composition. Learn it well and you can make your own decisions of when or when not to use it.

The term rule of thirds dates back to 1797 in a book by John Thomas Smith titled Remarks on Rural Scenery. Smith used it as a painting concept of balancing dark and light values.

This concept goes back beyond the origins of photography and most of the classical photographers used this concept a great deal in their work. Photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Arnold Newman used this placement extensively in their work as you can see in the examples here.

In this video, we’re concluding the last of our rule series in visual composition with what is commonly known as the Rule of Space. In motion picture production this is often referred to as Lead Room.
What The Rule of Space is visually is simply a technique when you want to apply motion or activity in your visual composition. The Rule of Space involves using negative space in front of the subject to imply a conclusion of the subject moving toward that space.
We’ll look at several techniques for achieving compositions based on the Rule of Space in the video tutorial.
It is important to understand as we conclude the “rule of” series that these are simple techniques of analyzing what is happening in the picture visually. They are not laws that must be followed hard and fast.
My point in teaching these concepts, however, is to raise an awareness when creating a visual composition. If you get in the habit of analytically looking at pictures and then analytically looking at your own work – this is where change starts to happen in order to improve your own skill as a photographer. You’re in charge of making your own decisions in order to make a better picture. Sometimes this involves adhering to these rules in a classical sense – other times it means avoiding them for effect. But either way, it is for you to decide.

Continuing on in our composition series, in this video, we will talk about a technique found in photography called sub-framing. Sub-framing is simply taking an object or subject in your image and framing it with lines within the composition, thus having a picture in a picture. This is a nice way to place emphasis on something in the composition and is particularly effective when an object is small and surrounded by detail.

In this episode, we’ll continue on with our compositional series and talk about the concept of rhythm.

Rhythm is a very important part of visual composition. Unlike the “rule” series of thinking, rhythm simply exists. It’s in every composition to some degree. What’s important is learning to control the rhythm elements of visual composition.

It’s best explained to make a musical comparison. Rhythm in music is the pulse at which the notes move over time. Music always has rhythm because it is a time-based medium. Notes or sounds move along with a pulse. These sounds can be of equal distance in time from one another for simple rhythms or they can play against the symmetry of being equal to create interest. Syncopation occurs when the rhythm is set up to work against itself – you hear this in jazz, rock, or African music.

These pulses in a visual composition are illustrated visually. The most obvious visual rhythms occur through repetition. Sometimes there is a symmetry to this repetition and sometimes objects can be syncopated against others like symmetrical objects. Chaos ads complexity and simplicity ads tranquillity. In visual composition, the photographer can create interest by playing with and arranging these visual elements.

This video explores the concept of tempo in visual composition. This is another metaphor for music as in the last video with Rhythm. Much like using Rhythm, Tempo can give you a nice variety in the pacing of your images and thus create more interest.
In music, tempo indicates the pace of the music and how fast or slow it moves over time. This is a challenge to represent this in a still photograph and your own personal interpretation is essential. In this tutorial, we’ll look at some of the ways photographers have successfully expressed tempo in visual composition.
Photographers discussed in this video:
  • Josef Hoflenher
  • Bryan David Griffith
  • Ori Gersht
  • Alexey Titarenko
  • Hengki Koentjoro
  • Ted Forbes

Aaron Blaise talks about how to find pleasing compositions for your paintings, photography, illustrations or any image for that matter using any of three methods:

1. If it looks good it IS good.
2. The Rule of Thirds
3. The Golden Ratio

This video provides a basic explanation of the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci sequence in an easy, enthusiastic, and accessible manner. Examples illustrate how the Golden Ratio appears in nature and in human design through historic art and architecture and in contemporary designs and branding.