Photo composition is really very simple. There are probably many theories but here’s the rule I was taught that has always worked for me.
Photographic Composition – The Rule:
For whatever reason, when looking at an image the human eye travels from the bottom right-hand corner diagonally towards the top left hand corner unless something interrupts it.
Take a look at the fruit and vegetables picture:
There’s a tricky little shadow in the bottom right hand corner that ‘points’ to the green shape beside it and the rest of the pieces are arranged to carry the eyes in a line up across the cabbage to that yellow pear.
So in one glance you are shown everything the artist wants you to see. It’s like the artist is saying: “Look here first, then here, and then here and then – voila! You are now appreciating my Still Life.”
Take a look at the Old Violin picture.
The angular shape in the bottom right hand corner leads your eye to the subject, which is the violin.
But the artist of this painting got a little adventurous and he builds the viewer’s interest. Your eye goes up to the violin, then down to the white label and then onto the blue envelope.
Why does the artist want you to see the blue envelope? Don’t ask me, but he does and you do find yourself wondering just what’s inside it…?
He is saying, “Here’s a violin, interesting shape and pleasing to the eye, huh?
There’s some music behind the violin – don’t you wonder what music it is? Ah, and there’s the ring so you see this is on a door – yes it’s a door because there are hinges… why is the violin on a door?
And what’s this label that probably explains something about this violin, and what’s this? A letter? To the owner of the violin? Who wrote it? What does it say? Is it a love letter? Was it from someone saying ‘Please, can I get my violin back now if you’ve finished painting it…’? Why did this guy get a letter and why does he keep it near this violin…?”
And by now you are thoroughly engrossed by the picture (if you have any imagination at all) and the artist has succeeded in creating something that communicated to you and made you want to communicate back. Voila! It’s art!!
Compare these with the glasses, dice and jug image…
This doesn’t follow the rule so the eye does not know where to go. It lands and then wanders around the scene like someone lost in a mall to eventually settle on the blue dice because they are blue while the rest of the image is mainly composed of warm tones. Then it wanders off again because the dice don’t have any anchoring quality.
You’re still seeing all the picture eventually but it’s the eyeball equivalent of looking at a messy room to figure how it is supposed to look when it’s not messy.