THE ONLY REAL RULE: SIMPLIFY
For photographic composition I think in terms of creating configurations out of chaos, rather than following any conventional rules of composition. Ansel Adams
The best compositions are simple. The photographer’s point stands out clearly without distractions or clutter.
The single most common photographic mistake is including too much in the frame. Imagine someone walking through Yosemite Valley who decides to photograph Half Dome. Without thinking, he snaps a picture. Later he notices that, in addition to Half Dome, the photo includes sky, trees, a meadow, plus a bus on the road, and Half Dome has become lost in the chaos.
Don’t be like him! Take a moment to think. What caught your eye in the first place? Make the photograph about that, and nothing else. If a composition isn’t working, move in closer or use a longer lens. Doing either will automatically crop out unnecessary material and simplify the design. If you’re trying to combine two elements, but they don’t seem to mesh, then concentrate on just one of them.
1 golden mean The rule of thirds says that if you divide a photograph into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, those lines, and the places where they intersect, are strong points to put a point of interest. This rule is a simplification of the golden mean which is closer to 2/5 than 1/3 [shown above].
2 JOINING foreground and background There must be lines, shapes, or colours that tie the two together; if not the photo will look disjointed. Here, the mounds of snow echo the round shape of distant Half Dome.
3 Eliminating Distractions This first image of the small waterfall isn’t bad (3A), but I felt that the dark rocks were distracting. I decided that what most caught my eye was the streaks of falling water and the golden reflection above, and used a longer lens to fill the frame with these most essential components (3B).
4 Adding Impact This first photograph is a nice, straightforward rendition of Vernal Fall (4A). It shows what the waterfall looked like, but didn’t capture the noise and power of the water. So I found a part of the fall that, to me, conveyed that feeling better (4B).