By John Ellis

This is part two of a multiple part ‘tip’ sheet on understanding composition.


Shapes are two-dimensional elements that can be lit to create three-dimensional form. Imagine a person in silhouette. That is a “shape” which is two-dimensional. When you add lighting to the subject, it becomes a “form” and three-dimensional. Lines give structure and can unify your composition by directing the eye. Lines give a sense of depth to an image. Vertical lines create a sense of strength. Horizontal lines create tranquility. Diagonal lines represent movement. Curved lines represent grace.


When lines, shapes and colors within an image occur in an orderly way {as in wallpaper, for example}, they create patterns that often enhance the attractiveness of photographs. Patterns should be used carefully to avoid confusion and monotony.


Light and shadows can be used in composition to create mood, to draw attention to an area, or to bring out form and texture in a subject. Without shadows, the subject of the image appears flat and lifeless.


Viewpoint is the position in relationship to the subject. Most subjects are three-dimensional and should be photographed from an angle (left, right, high, low) that allows the viewer to see more than one side of the subject. Camera angle refers to the angle in which the lens is tilted. A subject photographed from the ground up is considered to have a “low camera angle” and a subject photographed from above is considered to have a “high camera angle”.


Each element in an image has a certain amount of value in respect to all the other elements.

Every tone, mass, shape, line, tree, building or shadow contributes a certain amount of weight that must be arranged correctly in the composition to give the impression of balance. There is symmetrical (formal) balance and asymmetrical (informal) balance.

Symmetrical balance is achieved when both sides of an image are of equal weight. Asymmetrical balance is achieved when the presumed weight of two or more lighter objects is equalized by a single heavier object on the other side.

John Ellis is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes