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  • Writer's pictureOliver Wehrli

Image composition: The most important element in every photo

Anyone who is involved in photography will quickly realise that a good picture is more than photographic technique and other factors. Without observing some rules of picture composition, no excellent pictures will emerge. Painting, music and photography live from composition. A good photograph always has a well thought-out composition, regardless of the message it sends.

If you want to take interesting photos, you have to know how to set the scene for your motifs. The composition of the picture is therefore the most important basis for a good photo. The French painter Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) said:

All art is composition - that is the key to everything.

There are rules for the composition of pictures. You can learn them and consciously apply them. You scan the picture and consider whether the rules or one of the rules has been observed. The more difficult and next step is when one or the other rule is consciously thrown overboard if it is helpful to the image's message.

You can tell from a picture whether the photographer knows the rules and has intentionally not followed them, or whether he has not much idea about the composition of the picture.

In the image below (Larix) I have two examples based on guidelines. The one on the left shows the lines in the intersection of the golden triangles leading from the lower left to the tree. This divides the image into a series of triangles and gives it strong diagonals that follow the lines of the "golden triangles". In the example on the right, it is the representation of the golden ratio rule.

It is a good exercise to consciously use one or two rules again and again. Other times you leave the rules out completely and then compare the results. After a short time, you use these guidelines naturally and begin to use them naturally without having to think about them. In the above picture, I did not consciously apply either of the two cutting patterns, but it happened automatically and without thinking about it.

From the practice

You have arrived at the location. The light is good today and the camera is ready to go. But wait! One important ingredient is still missing before you press the shutter release. This will be decisive in determining whether the photo will turn out well. We are talking about the composition of the picture.

A good composition underlines the image's message

The aim of a good picture composition is to lead the viewer through the picture. After all, people want to look at the pictures more closely and not just take a quick glance at them. With a successful image composition, you draw the viewer into your image and direct his eye.

A small exercise

If you pay attention to a few things when composing pictures, you can get a lot more out of them to captivate or guide the viewer. Here is a suggestion and a small exercise:

Take your camera and take a picture of a chosen subject! One! Not 10 or 100, just one. But you create it quite intentionally - even without knowing a lot of rules. Point your camera and look at the display or in the viewfinder:

  • Where is the main motif placed?

  • Are there elements that particularly stand out?

  • Are there any disturbing elements?

  • What is the image's message?

  • What does the light do?

If necessary, change the picture's composition or perspective. When you are sure that this is how you want your picture to look, set the exposure and release the shutter. This exercise works best with a tripod.

Whenever possible, follow the motto "LESS IS MORE". A picture doesn't get better by trying to fit as much as possible on it. Even in an unsettled forest section, it is important to focus on the essentials in order to bring calm into the chaos. The viewer's gaze should be guided. In landscape photography, not too many things should disturb the composition of the picture.

I wish you a lot of fun photographing.


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