Arguably one of the most important elements in any picture, composition guides how the viewer engages with the photograph.
When composing a picture, the photographer must consider:
Where does the subject sit in the frame? Various guides such as the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Ratio, the Golden Triangle, and others (many of which are based on the Fibonacci sequence) are available to help with subject placement in the picture.
Leading lines are a common compositional element used to guide the viewer's eye through the picture. Lines can also be used to create conflict and barriers within the picture if that is the photographer's intent.
Satisfying pictures contain balanced elements such as shapes, colors, and negative space. Photographers can also omit or distort balancing elements to create contrast and conflict.
- Shapes and patterns
As viewers we tend to prefer a sense of order; as a result compositions that include familiar shapes and orderly patterns tend to please our eye. Conflict or disorder can be created by disrupting those shapes and patterns.
Texture in a photograph can help stimulate the viewer's sense of touch, allowing them to connect the textures in the photograph with the overall sense of the picture - e.g. soft textures help you feel comfortable. Texture can also help add a sense of depth.
Color is another element the photographer can use to draw the viewer's eye to a specific element or elements within a picture. Some colors, such as reds, tend to be more dominant and draw attention more readily than other colors. Clever use of color can add balance, create leading lines, or disrupt or enhance shapes and patterns.
The viewer's eye tends to be drawn to the part of a photograph with the highest contrast, whether it's tonal (light/dark) or color.
- Foreground, middle ground, and background
Pictures are made up of three visual planes - foreground, middle ground, and background. Positioning of the subject in one of these three planes can influence the viewer's response to the picture. A subject in the foreground is immediate and easy to connect to, while placing the subject in the background creates a sense of distance. Typically in portrait photography the subject would be in the foreground or in the middle ground framed or pointed to by foreground elements.
Ultimately, the photographer needs to decide how to use these elements to create the final picture she or he wants.