My Tips for awesome compositions: Part 1

By John Ellis

Composition is the arrangement of subject matter elements within the image.

When we look at a scene, we see a three-dimensional image and can selectively see only the important elements and ignore the rest. A camera sees and records only a small, isolated part of a larger scene as it reduces it to two dimensions, frames it, and captures it. The camera does not discriminate as we do. Backgrounds can be cluttered with unwanted elements we didn’t notice when the image was captured. There are numerous principals and elements to composition and how we use them decides whether or not the composition is pleasing. Sometimes all of these principals have to be decided upon in a very short time span.

Here are the first three of those fifteen principals, concisely explained and exampled.


Each picture should have a point of interest, or one main idea or topic to attract the viewer’s eye. Other elements within the picture should support and focus attention on the main feature, so it alone is emphasized.


There are two guidelines for determining the best location for the point of interest:

Dynamic Symmetry and The Rule Of Thirds.

Dynamic Symmetry is created by drawing or imagining a diagonal line from one corner to an opposite corner. A second line is created perpendicular to the first from a third corner. The intersections of the lines are the locations of the points of interest.

Rule of Thirds as per the example is imaging a grid resembling a tic-tac-toe game in the viewfinder and placing the point of interest in the area of one of the intersections of a vertical and a horizontal line.


The simpler and more direct a picture is, the clearer and stronger the resulting statement. Tell only one story in an image. Each image is composed of numerous small parts and contributing elements; none should attract more of the viewer’s attention than the primary object of the picture. Everything should support and emphasize the main object.

Next time we’ll offer tips on three additional principals of great composition; Shapes and Lines, Patterns and Lighting.

John Ellis is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes