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Frame Construction 101


Pick out a photograph that you like. Take a good long look at it, why do you like it so much? It might be that it's of a beloved person, it might be about a subject that invokes emotions or old memories in you, it might just be a “great picture”. But what makes a photo great, beyond the right exposure and beyond the pretty/interesting subject? In this article I will unfold the basic secrets of composition and will show you how to take better photos. Due to a lack of time (and limited patience to read dozens of pages), I will only briefly scan the basic principles of composition. What about the rest? Some other time, or if you get the chance to come to my lectures ;)


This article’s composition:

1.      What is composition?

2.      Subject, predicate and background

3.      The rule of thirds and the speaker’s distance

4.      The rule of diagonals

5.      Converging composition

6.      Leading the eye

7.      Shooting angles

8.      What does the eye like?

9.      Additional terms and advanced techniques

10.  Some examples

11.  Breaking the rules

12.  Composition tests

13.  Summary


1. Composition – Composition is about creating the picture, we decide what is in it and what is left out. Think of the photo as prized real estate, and we need to decide how to put it to the best use possible. Through the rules of composition we can create and image that the eye likes and “convince” it to glance at it a moment longer. The term "composition" means "Putting Together", and that's exactly what we'll do.


2. Subject, predicate and background – We can divide the objects in out photograph in to three groups (guess what they are…):

A.      Subject – This is the most important element of the photo and it should be clear to the viewer what it is. I have run into many photos that lacked a subject… Repeat after me: A photo without a subject is not a photo. (I hope the message is clear).

B.      Predicate – This is a completing or competing element to the subject. We should try to make sure that the predicate doesn’t “steal the show” from the subject, and it should contribute details about the subject to provide a different angle or perspective on the subject.

C.      Background – It’s important to remember, the background is just as important as the subject of the photo. It’s true that many people don’t notice what’s behind the subject when they are taking the picture, but the background can take an ordinary photo and make it great. The background should complement the subject while not stealing attention from it.




3. The rule of thirds – Imagine the division of a frame (the photo) into three vertical thirds and three horizontal thirds, you know what? Lets just demonstrate it:

Placing the object on the thirds of the photo creates a much more interesting composition that placing it in the center of the frame. How shall we decide in which third the subject should be placed? According to the speaker’s distance. What is the speaker’s distance? (Excellent question) The "Speaker" is the subject and it means that an object should be placed in the picture in a way that will leave it space to “look” to. For example, if I take a picture of a model looking to the left, I would prefer to place her in the right third and vice versa. What about the horizon? First of all, it is important to keep a straight horizon, and it should be placed either on the top or bottom third, depending which part of the photo is more interesting (the sky or the ocean/field/mountains/etc). The converging points of the thirds ,AKA meeting points (There are four in every photo), are powerful places to locate objects.


4. The rule of diagonals – Our eyes reallllly love diagonals, but not just any diagonals, it loves best a diagonal that leads from the bottom-left corner to the top-right corner (look at the illustration). This is why we should try and create such diagonals in a variety of ways.


5. Converging composition – This is a composition that leads the viewer’s eye into the depth of the photo. Usually we place the converging point in the center and create a symmetrical composition leading to the center.


6. Leading the eye – With the aid of the knowledge you are acquiring right now, we will be able to lead or guide the eye through the frame and “dictate” to it what will it look at first, where it will wonder next and where it will finally stop. How can this be accomplished? With diagonals, lines, curves, people’s hand gestures and other elements that can be incorporated into the picture. The place where the eye finally settles is called the “anchor”. Every good photo must have an anchor, otherwise the eye will wonder endlessly without a place to settle down. The anchor point will, hopefully, contain the subject of the photograph. I want you from now on, to pay attention where your eye wonders in every picture you look at, from the beginning to the end of viewing it. For example, take a look at this picture:


Let's go through it together the first time: Your eye begins by looking at the man’s eye, from there it wonders down towards the moustache and looks at the smile, continues down the hand and back up again guided by his finger back to the man’s eyes. A circular motion is created that always ends up on the eyes. Your eye won’t “wonder” to the bottom left side or the top right side either, but it will move in the circular motion I described.


7. Shooting angles – It’s recommended to try new angles; they will display a point of view that people don’t normally see in every-day life. Try photographing from ground level (yep, get down and dirty), from a window looking down, be original. When taking pictures of live objects (people, children, birds, insects, etc), try to be at eye’s level with the subject. If we are higher – it diminishes them, if we are lower – it augments them.


8. What does the eye like? This is the million-dollar question (though Euro is better now-a-days…). The eye is drawn to three things (A, B, C):

A. Acutely sharp elements – If the whole picture is blurry and there is one sharp object.

B. Bright elements – If the whole picture is dark except one bright object.

C. Colorful elements – If the whole picture is black and white or monochrome and there is one color saturated object.


9. Other terms and techniques – The field of composition is much wider than described here, terms such as the “golden ratio” and other techniques of creative thinking, the use of light to create depth, using different lenses to create perspective, making and breaking abstracts, photographing portraits (there are about 42 different rules…) and other topics. But all this is for another time…


10. Some examples – I will give some examples from photos I’ve taken, and I invite you to examine (you don’t have to report back…) the photos, see what composition I’ve chosen to create and to which composition rules they abide. Finished running through them and want to practice some more? You are welcome to my galleries here on my website to analyze some more photos. Criticism is one of the photographer’s most valuable tools – thanks to it you will take better pictures in the future.

11. Breaking the rules – Great photographers took great shots by breaking some of the rules (and even all of them). Sometimes breaking the rules creates that unexpected shot that the viewer doesn’t quite know how to take in and this is what fascinates him/her even more. Sometimes we will position an old woman in contrast to the speaker’s distance rule if we want to make a statement of “on the way out” or we will choose to position a marathon runner at the edge of the photo to create impression of him “outrunning” the frame. But my suggestion is, before you break the rules, learn them well and then you’ll know how and when to break them. Learn it before you Break it.


12. Test of a good picture – One of the best tests for a good picture is how long the viewer stalls to look at it. If he/she continues to the next photo in less than two seconds – the photo we’ve taken isn’t really great. But if the viewer stays to look at it, and produces the “WOW” effects, as I call it, then we know that we’ve succeeded. A fascinating subject helps, of course, but a good composition will take it to a whole other level.


Summary – The composition makes the picture. With its help we can determine what the viewer looks at first, later and where his/her eyes will finally rest. A good composition will fascinate the viewer and will squeeze the “WOW” out of him. This has been an introduction to composition, naturally there are many more topics to discuss and many more concepts to implement. Make sure to give the eye its ABC’s (Acutely sharp, Bright, Colorful images), follow the rule of thirds, the rule of diagonals, and build a correct frame structure with interesting leading of the eye, develop a sense of criticism in a way that you can criticize yourself while taking the photo and by that accomplishing better photography.


I hope you enjoyed and learned. Composition is one of the subjects I enjoy teaching the most. Imply the rules you have just learned, take your best shots and present them to friends and family, and look for the “WOW” until you get it (then go and get it again).





Roie Galitz


Other articles in english–

Translated to English by Yael Shapira-Galitz


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