Composition and genres in photography

Basic rules in the photographic composition, still in the Renaissance – the fine art dates back to the time of Leonardo da Vinci.

Ancient Greeks, Renaissance artists, astronomers from the 17th century and architects of the 21st century are united by the fact that they all used the Golden Ratio, also known as the Golden Proportion.

This is the number Phi (Phi) – 1.61803399, which has truly unique mathematical properties and is appeared in nature everywhere. Thanks to its use, artists can create unique works.

In mathematics and art, the golden proportion was manifested when the ratio of the sums of two magnitudes to the greater of them is equal to the ratio of the larger magnitude to the smaller one. When the golden section is conceived in two dimensions, it is usually represented as a spiral, which is determined by means of a series of squares and arcs forming “golden rectangles”.

The spiral shape expresses the dynamics of the growth of plants and other natural objects, the golden proportion also exposes in the construction of the human body. Thus, this is a particular ratio of simple spirals and rectangles that lay at the base of the world, so it was called Golden or Divine.

Another basic rule is the “rule for thirds”

Renaissance artists have found that the most eye-catching location of objects in their paintings is based on the thirds rule. This is a method of simplifying the “golden ratio”. Many of today’s photographers use this method when composing their images. The basic principle behind the rule is that you divide the frame into nine parts with two horizontal and two vertical lines. You get a grid with 9 rectangles.

The shape of the frame or canvas is basically 3: 2 or 24×36 for 35mm.

The scheme looks like this:

The frame is divided into three on the horizontal and the vertical in the proportions you see on the diagram. Where the blue lines cross, there are strong points in the frame, respectively, and these lines are strong. The diagonals are also strong lines, but where the intersection is the weakest point in the frame, namely the center. By running from the center horizontally and vertically, these are the weakest lines. Or, in other words, we must have the important elements in the composition at the strong points and the strong lines avoiding the center and the weak lines.

The other important rule we need to keep in mind is the direction of eye vision.

Eye movement direction:

The eye moves from left to right, as we read and write. As the diagram shows the direction of the arrows, that’s the way the brain reads the image.

In the different genres of photography, there are specific rules for the genre, but these are the three fundamental rules.

Landscape photography

In the diverse and colorful world of the planet Earth there are and can be photographed breathtaking views of mountains, lakes, jungles, islands, oceans and seas to northern shades and Antarctic.

Basic rules in the composition

One of the basic rules is the line of the horizon. Place 2/3 sky 1/3 of the land or vice versa, depending on where the information is more interesting – the colorful clouds and the picturesque sunset or the foreground of interesting trees, shrubs, stones or other landscapes – bridges, rivers. The reason to avoid placing the horizon in the middle is that splits the picture half to half and the viewer will wonder where to look at the sky or the ground, two separate pictures are taken in one.

Linear perspective

Another basic rule is the use of diagonals to create nice landscapes. A diagonal linear perspective can lead the eye to build our composition or lead us to the subject, for example, train tracks lead to a punch or a bridge over a river leading to a house, and so on.

Tonal perspective

This is the rule for the percentage of bright and dark in a single image. Especially in black and white photography, this is extremely important. The percentage attitude is good to be 50% to 50%, with the exception of this rule being the high and low key.

In addition to everything written so far, I must mention the focus. When shooting a multi-layered general composition, it’s good to keep everything in focus, and when shooting a specific subject, let’s keep the focus only on subject, and let the rest of the landscape make a bokkeh so that it can stand out effect we can apply the tonal perspective rule.

Reportage photography

Reportage photography includes shooting of all kinds of events, as well as streets photography of the urban environment. In a word, most things that surround us in everyday life, mostly situations involving people.

Here are some rules:

For example, if we are shooting a skier who descends on a slope, we use the strong diagonal that descends downwards rather than the ascending diagonal in which the view goes from bottom to top. The descending diagonal follows the natural direction of the skier’s travel as it descends rather than climbs up the slope.


For example, when shooting a soccer match it is important that the ball is always present in the frame because it is the most important element of the game.

It is not basic, but it is good that the “golden ratio” is respected in order to have a strong composition.

It is also important to have a quick reflex in order not to miss the moment. The viewpoint is also key to all feature elements being present in the frame, especially when we are shooting an event.

Fashion photography

Fashion photography is primarily about shooting people-professional models for different purposes. They can be editorials for fashion magazines, fashion designer lookbooks, catalog for online clothing stores, photography of creative make ups or creative hairs, image fashion photography with models in interior or exterior, model photo tests. In this genre, creative work with light is crusial – natural and artificial, cinema techiniques, etc., but this will be the subject of another article. We will now look at the genre only from the rules of composition.

The main rule is for the shooting plans. Schemas are vertical because the media in which the images are published are resolved in this format.

Scheme of plans

  1. A common plan – this plan, is when the figure of the model is absolutely whole in the frame
  2. ¾ or an Italian plan – this plan is when the figure of the model is cut to below the knees in the frame
  3. American plan – this plan is when the figure of the model is cut to above the knees in the frame
  4. Portrait – this plan is when the figure of the model is cut from the cross or chest up in the frame
  5. Detail – this plan is when we cut off part of the model’s face, for example a detail of eyes and lips

An important condition when shooting all the plans is not to cut through the joints – the wrist, the elbow, the knee, in the case of shooting a detail, we do not have to cut through the eye – this is the most sensitive element of the composition.

Two other rules for shooting people are creating an open and closed composition

Open Composition

A composition is open when the shape of the figure is not entire in the frame, ie. we’re cut off somewhere.

Closed Composition

A composition is closed when the figure is whole in the frame.

There is one exception, which is characteristic of these two types of compositions. An open composition may become closed even when the figure is not full in the frame. Various items and accessories we use to close it. For example, a necklace in portrait, draw an ellipse from the bottom and closes the composition; a naked back dress, when filmed in American plan; crucified umbrella in front of the body describes a circle in the composition, again at the American or Italian plan.

To inspire a certain emotion at a subconscious level in the viewer we can use associations.

  1. The letter “S” – a symbol of Harmony – for example, the model stands in a similar position or has an “S” shaped river or a background path.
  2.  Horizontal lines in the Horizontal Frame – symbol of Harmony – for example, background-fence element
  3.  Vertical lines in the Vertical Frame – Aggression symbol – for example, cage cell, gridlock, or similar background element
  1. Arc – a symbol of Magesty – for example a door, arch or stained glass in a church
  2. Light ball on a black background – a symbol of Depression – for example, a rounded figure of the model, in a act photograph
  3. Spiral – a symbol of Infinity – for example, the figure of the model is in the background of winding stairs

Since the combination of colors is very important not only in fashion photography, but as a whole we will pay attention to the coloring and mixing of colors.

From school textbooks for 6-7 grade in school, you are clearly familiar with this scheme:


Blue, green, and red colors are the primary colors and all other colors are mixed from them.

  1. Mixing Blue and Green produces Cyan
  2. Mixing Green and Red produces Yellow
  3. Magenta is obtained from the mixture of Blue and Red

The resulting colors of blending the basic Yellow, Magenta and Cyan are additional colors.

Mixing of the main colors together (R, G, B) results in White color.

Mixing the extra colors together (C, M, Y) gives a black color.

Mixing them in different percentages gives different Gray tones.

The use of all this in the production of computer equipment is the well-known RGB model in the monitors. The offset printing machine is the well-known CMYK model.

The application of the scheme for the production and mixing of colors in the creative direction is the perception of color harmony in the composition. What is important to remember is that the opposite colors in the table (for example, Blue and Yellow) are the most successful color combinations, and black, white and different shades of gray can be combined with all other colors individually.

Still life

This photography refers to the shooting of all kinds of objects and products – absolutely all household objects, medicines, cosmetics, all technique and machines to cars, airplanes, even works of art, etc. Photographs can be used for product catalogs, image photography for billboards, posters, food packaging, online stores, and more.

When creating image frames, it is very important to bring the soul of the subject to the foreground. For example, if we shoot a face cream to give the image a sense of purity, naturalness and tenderness we may use elements in the composition that enhance this sensation – for example, a smooth and delicate female face with natural makeup and the natural ingredients of the cream shot it really for example, if the cream contains coconut oil to capture real coconut and include it as part of the composition, etc.

Food photography is also a matter of still life. With beautiful plates, utensils, tablecloths, cups we can create unique compositions, but we have to be careful about the food we combine to be taste-compatible or in other words we can not combine roasted chicken with cake. Lighting plays a very important role, it will make the food look delicious.

Whatever subject we need to photograph, we need to emphasize with light its natural forms in order to create the necessary shaping. Use the principles of color harmony to choose the background or exterior.

Another subject of still life is product catalogue photography. It is important that all the details are well lit and that the object is visible as it is – to have a correct color, such as the saturation and the exact color of the inscriptions (sometimes it is very difficult to extract a gold or silver inscription , especially if it is in oval shape), correct representation of a proportional actual shape – appropriate shooting angle, etc. This type of photos are made on a white or gray background. Their application is mostly for online stores, photos should have good informative visibility in every detail. Unlike imaging photos, there is no creativity, everything is in pre-set narrow framework.

Regarding the composition, it is important that vertical objects are shot in vertical format and horizontal-horizontally.

Conceptual photography

This type of photography is a mix of all other genres. The same rules apply, with the difference that the lead is the idea. All means of expression, including any mix media, are allowed. There is no exact recipe. The unique leading idea will lead you to the right realization and the technical approach for implementing it.

Scientific photography

This genre includes photos of evidence from crime scenes, car crashes, disaster damage, surgical operations, dental shots, X-rays and other parts of the body to see joint fractures, and so on.

For this type of photography, it’s important that the object is well lit flat to see every detail, exact color and structure, traces, and so on. Regarding the composition, it is not important, the object must be whole and be clearly visible, we can also take a picture of the most important detail. Macros and ring flash are usually used. It is a good idea for the photos to have no further editing. A correct white balance must be made to get the exact color of the object.

This is basically the basic rules of the composition and some characteristics in the different genres.

Like all rules, they can be broken. This can lead to very interesting results, but do not forget that doing so must be justified.
















    1. Thank you very much! I prepare a probook, but I have lot of work before publishing. Stay tuned 🙂

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