Photo Composition

Composition is basically the way you frame your photograph.

Beyond this, and more importantly, it is the way you arrange the elements of the subject in the frame so that they take on a particular meaning. If a naked body is photographed in repose, with the face lit to attract our attention, we will notice the subject’s expression and then interpret the frame in relation to how the person appears to be feeling.

The photographer's choice to include the face in the frame alters it's meaning.

To carry the example further, suppose the camera had focussed only on a close up of the shoulder, upper arm and one breast. This, depending on the lighting and the actual subjects gender and physical condition could create a visual impression of strength, health, age, masculinity or femininity, which would lead us to place the photograph into a category of meaning which could vary from the sexual imagery of Playboy to the hard realism of an anatomy text.

In any case, the photographer has the control of such meaning by:


1. Choosing the subject.

2. Lighting the subject to suit and enhance the impression desired of the viewer. Eg: 

  • soft and hazy for Playboy
  • hard edged for a study of wrinkled age
  • showing contour and shadow to emphasise muscle shape in a weight lifting magazine.

3. Placing the subject in the frame: eg. Consciously isolating breast, shoulder and upper arm in the example depersonalises the image. (It is in fact not an image you would find in Playboy because of this very fact ‑ without the face the body becomes mere anatomy.)

4. Choosing the medium for recording, Eg:

  • Digital, colour film or black and white?
  • A high speed grainy film or a low speed film of great detail?
  • Setting on a digital camera

In any photographic situation these basic four elements must be considered by the photographer to be dependent on one final ingredient.

This final factor is time.


Time is vital to composition. If you are shooting for a specific purpose and have time to set up and consider all of the above elements then those four elements are the chief consideration.


However, all too often, we need to capture a vital moment which can fade or disappear if we are not ready to shoot. In these cases the vital thing is to be proficient and confident enough with your equipment to be ready to shoot.

To learn HOW TO TAKE PHOTOS BETTER -consider our Photo Practice Course which has been designed principally for just that purpose. 

Read a book, do a course, join an organisation; talk to people, observe the world.
Contact us -Talk to an Academic Officer
Learn from our experience.

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