March 28, 2017

Composition: The Secret Language of Photography

Words + Photos : Julian Thomas

When you see a photograph, you probably notice the tones, the contrast, or even texture of the image. But those elements are not the first thing your eyes interpret. Before you even consider the photograph, your brain has already subconsciously registered one, more overarching aspect: the composition.

Composition in a piece of art is like body language. Even an untrained eye is able to interpret these subliminal cues. Many times, it’s why you’re instantly drawn to a photograph. But learning to use the tool intentionally elevates what you’re able to create and the messages you’re able to communicate.

A great way to train yourself to think more consciously about composition is to search out new perspectives. Even something as simple as grabbing your phone and mixing up your morning commute by taking transit instead of driving can help you think differently about your surroundings.

While driving across a bridge one might notice the clouds rolling by while focusing on the road ahead. Compare that perspective to walking beneath the same bridge used for the every morning commute to work.


If the decision is to walk across that bridge, you may notice the repetition in the infrastructure or the small details. Framing these details in the foreground of a photo can present the subject in a way that highlights the scale. These are features the viewer might not appreciate at a different pace.


A properly composed frame draws the viewer into or across an image in a purposeful way.  It can even carry a certain speed at which the viewer’s eyes follow a path through the photo. Straight lines can cause the eyes to move quickly, while curves tend to slow down the experience.


Reflections tend to stop you in your tracks. Part of this is due to the visual confusion when your eyes don’t have a natural path to follow. While symmetry is widely appreciated, reflections can be interpreted as a visual overload that requires the eyes to take a moment to adjust.


Properly composing a frame makes for a truly harmonious experience. The next time you’re out and about try out some of these perspectives to help you compose a more meaningful photo.




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