3 Composition Basics for Beginners

Capture the moment while composing the shot

By Sarah Wells, Sandpoint High School

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






When shooting in the heat of the moment, as many photojournalists must, it is still important to remember the basics of composition while capturing the action. Poor composition can make an otherwise excellent shot an eyesore, and likewise, employing some general rules of composition can take a publication’s photos to the next level.

Here are three composition basics for photojournalists:

Utilize rule of thirds, but know how and when to break it. Rule of thirds is a classic method of composition that is used in almost any type of visual media, from photography to painting. It involves dividing a photo into horizontal and vertical thirds and placing the most important subjects on the intersections or on the horizontal and vertical thirds themselves.

However, the brain naturally seeks out symmetry and balance in visual composition; if you can compose a shot with strong symmetry or balance (especially in portraiture) it is okay to break the rule of thirds.

In this photo, the referee is a dominant element to the two wrestlers and is placed on the right vertical third. The horizon of the mat is also on the lower horizontal third. (ISO 3200, 65mm, f/4.0, 1/250 sec)

Photo by Sarah Wells
In this photo, the referee is a dominant element to the two wrestlers and is placed on the right vertical third. The horizon of the mat is also on the lower horizontal third. (ISO 3200, 65mm, f/4.0, 1/250 sec)

In this photo, the subject is placed in the center of the image. However, because there is symmetry in the background (the trees) and symmetry in the subject (sunglasses, backpack straps, etc.) the rule of thirds is successfully broken.  (100 ISO, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/4000 sec)

Photo by Sarah Wells
In this photo, the subject is placed in the center of the image. However, because there is symmetry in the background (the trees) and symmetry in the subject (sunglasses, backpack straps, etc.) the rule of thirds is successfully broken. (100 ISO, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/4000 sec)

Convey depth when possible. Using depth in photography by overlapping parts of the scene draws more attention to the subject and conveys more of the scene being photographed.

By including the railing in the foreground, depth is created between the background and the viewer. It also gives the vantage point of this photograph, which shows the viewer where this photo was taken (behind a railing from a higher point of ground).  (ISO 100, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/4000 sec)

Photo by Sarah Wells
By including the railing in the foreground, depth is created between the background and the viewer. It also gives the vantage point of this photograph, which shows the viewer where this photo was taken (behind a railing from a higher point of ground). (ISO 100, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/4000 sec)

 

Shooting through your scene, in this case through bushes, can also create depth and highlight the subject of the photograph. (ISO 100, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/2000 sec)

Photo by Sarah Wells
Shooting through your scene, in this case through bushes, can also create depth and highlight the subject of the photograph. (ISO 100, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/2000 sec)

Keep backgrounds clean and simple. Having a cluttered background can distract from the subject of a photograph. Whenever possible, keep backgrounds clean and simple either by deliberately setting up a shot with a clean background or by shooting on a wide aperture.

I deliberately set up this shot with the shoes on a clean background (the table) so the shoes were the focus of the image. (ISO 100, 50mm, f/2.8, 1/25 sec)

Photo by Sarah Wells
I deliberately set up this shot with the shoes on a clean background (the table) so the shoes were the focus of the image. (ISO 100, 50mm, f/2.8, 1/25 sec)

Here, a cluttered background is blurred out with a wide aperture. (ISO 2500, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/80 sec)

Photo by Sarah Wells
Here, a cluttered background is blurred out with a wide aperture. (ISO 2500, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/80 sec)

While photojournalism is absolutely about capturing moments as they happen, it is also important to consider rules of composition when taking photos. By knowing when to use and break rule of thirds, conveying depth, and keeping backgrounds clean and uncluttered, photos  will not only depict an event, but will do so in a visually pleasing manner.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sarah Wells is an award-winning designer for Sandpoint High School’s student-run publication the Cedar Post. Wells won an Honorable Mention in Newsmagazine Layout at the 2015 National High School Journalism Convention in Denver.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Right
Navigate Left
  • 3 Composition Basics for Beginners

    Design

    Contrasting Type

  • 3 Composition Basics for Beginners

    2017 State Conference

    2017 State High School Communication Conference

  • 3 Composition Basics for Beginners

    2017 State Conference

    Hold the date! 2017 State Conference scheduled for Oct. 26

  • 3 Composition Basics for Beginners

    Awards

    Idaho students win at national convention

  • 3 Composition Basics for Beginners

    Awards

    Enter the 2017 JEA Journalist of the Year state (and national) contest

  • 3 Composition Basics for Beginners

    2016 State Conference

    2016 Idaho High School Communications Conference — Guidebook link!

  • 3 Composition Basics for Beginners

    Advisers

    The business of journalism

  • 3 Composition Basics for Beginners

    Awards

    It’s never too early to plan for Journalist of the Year competition

  • 3 Composition Basics for Beginners

    Awards

    National recognition

  • 3 Composition Basics for Beginners

    Design

    InDesign tip: Indents

3 Composition Basics for Beginners