Composition in digital photography: looking for rhythm, balance, and harmony

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Everybody can learn how to ride a bike, but what about playing piano or drawing? Is it possible to master photography skills without discovering a natural artistic talent first? I have good news for all the SAE students: you do not have to be a natural born artist to take good pictures. In my opinion everybody can learn about composition principles and master them, so take a moment to read this article and start to experiment with digital photography today!

Text and pictures by Joanna Wróblewska

Taking pictures is one of my favorite leisure activities. I like to look at things from the camera perspective and play with composition principles. I search for interesting topics: photographing architecture, cities and nature gives me a lot of joy. It is a process, an ongoing experiment, a never ending story. I have no purpose, no expectations, nobody and nothing limits me. I do not even care for the quality. Focusing on the arrangement of visual elements within the image is the essence of what I appreciate in taking pictures on a daily basis. I invite you to do the same and master composition skills by having fun and working every single day. The combination of pleasure and routine is the best cure for the lack of both self-discipline and self-esteem. You do not have to search for the rhythm, balance and harmony to much; they will find you while practicing.

The trained eye has a natural capability of noticing visual arrangements that are not only interesting for the viewer, but also for the camera. It is helpful to realize (and remember) that a camera sees the world in a different way than we do. It is a machine that will always depict things in the same way: as flat objects placed in a two-dimensional space. To take control over the camera and force it to show what he sees, the photographer has to learn how to look at the world in a different way.

Observe nature and create abstract pictures.

Observe nature and create abstract pictures.

What if you would start to see the reality around you as a set of geometrical shapes of diverse structures and textures? What if you would learn how to recognize abstract forms within the world around you and record them? Photography is something waiting to be discovered by you, so take a smartphone and start shooting! Practicing is the only way of understanding, especially to students who are eager to improve their composition skills.

Rhythm
The repetition of forms is easy to find. Not only in nature but also in design, painting, photography, and architecture. Everything around us is built out of shapes that are pretty basic and often similar to each other. Look at trees: their forms could be closed in imaginary triangles, rectangles or circles. Start to observe shapes repeating in nature and the city space, within your body. Photograph structures of windows in skyscrapers or lines painted on a road. Shoot flowers, leaves, and fruit. Shortly, you will notice that all the forms continuously repeat, and your task will be to depict this kind of repetitions. How does this type of knowledge influence your pictures? Did the reality change for you already? If so, explore the world of images further.

Trees have different geometrical shapes.

Trees have different geometrical shapes.

You can search for rhythm (and patterns) everywhere.

You can search for rhythm (and patterns) everywhere.

Balance
To balance out visual elements means to maintain the stability of the composition so that it remains steady and has right proportions. First search for symmetrical configurations and photograph them, and then take a step forward and try to figure out the balance between elements that differ and create more tension. Pay attention to the proportions of forms, their directions, shapes, and colors. Look at your pictures and answer the following questions:

1. Does this composition “fall” to one of the sides?
2. Which elements of the composition are the heaviest?
3. How to balance out the forms and maintain the steadiness?

This image is balanced with the repetition of shapes and colours.

This image is balanced with the repetition of shapes and colours.

Learning to balance the composition can be compared to fighting (or dealing) with opposite forces. Changing the positioning of the camera and moving it around will help you to master this essential aspect of shooting pictures.

Harmony
Understanding the idea of harmony in visual arts might be challenging. If you struggle with it, first listen to Mozart and try to visualize his music. It is incredibly harmonious, which means that all parts of the artwork relate to each other and complement each other. In an image, all the visual elements should be pulled together and create a whole. Harmony is pretty hard to achieve and needs a lot of practice. It is an overall feeling that everything relates to each other, a calming touch of the photographer’s hand.

Harmonious pictures please our eyes.

Harmonious pictures please our eyes.

Not necessarily, we always search for rhythm, balance and harmony in photography, but mastering them will make you more conscious and allow you to construct more appealing images. Before you start to experiment and search for your voice, take some time to learn the basics and discover the power of classic composition principles. Nothing will replace the hours spent on photographing and investigating what works and what does not, so be patient and practice.

Start to share your pictures online on Behance, Tumblr, Instagram or WordPress – it helps to keep yourself motivated and encourages to work regularly. After all, showing your work is almost as important as creating!

Learn more:
The Principles of Design in Photography
How to Use Rhythm and Pattern to Create Stronger Compositions
Balance in Photography

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