iPhone Photography for Beginners: The Foundations of Composition

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If you read last week’s blog and have had some time to practice, you’ll be pretty familiar with your iPhone’s camera features by now. Hopefully you’ve had fun playing around with a few things you didn’t know you could do!  Contact us and let us know what you learned!

This week, I want to help you with you composition - an important thing to master when you want to create compelling imagery. There are a few basic rules to understand, but once you do it will make such a difference to the quality of your photos! Bear in mind this is not specific to iPhone photography, however it is important to know how to compose a great image before we dive into advanced features & editing. Let’s get started.

What is composition and why is it important?

Before we get stuck into how to create good composition in your images, I thought it would be important to talk about what it is and why you need to be mindful of it. Composition ‘describes placement of relative objects and elements in a work of art’ (photographylife.com). In a nutshell, it’s the way in which the elements within your image are placed within the frame to bring to life the overall interpretation or story.

The reason composition is important in your image has to do with the way human beings interpret visual cues. The human eye loves balance – it makes us feel more comfortable and interpret that image as pleasing or more attractive. Additionally, it is important to remember that the elements within your image are not only arranged in a balanced manner, but are relevant to the story you are telling (so pick your props carefully!).

 What story does this image tell you about the photographer? Colour, props & arrangement have all contribute to your interpretation.

What story does this image tell you about the photographer? Colour, props & arrangement have all contribute to your interpretation.

The Rules of Composition

There are several ‘rules’ or guiding principles for good composition. If you’re new to it, these will be something that you will probably consider quite mindfully at first but once you practice it will become second nature.

Rule of Thirds

This is the most basic rule of composition, and forms the foundation for great image-making. If you are learning photography, it is usually the first principle you will be taught and is by far the easiest to master. The idea is to split your frame into a 3x3 grid, forming 9 squares:

iPhone Photography for Beginners: The Foundations of Composition

If you find this difficult to do mentally, check out last week’s blog where I talked about how to turn on your iPhone camera grid!

The idea is then to place your subject or points of interest at the intersecting points of the grid, like so:

The theory behind this is that the human eye is more inclined to travel to these intersecting points rather than the centre of the image, which allows the viewer to interact with the image more naturally.

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio is the Rule of Thirds more sophisticated older sister! Also sometimes known as the Fibonacci Spiral, it origins are scientific in nature and the result of a very complicated maths equation that I can't even begin to understand or explain! Nevertheless, it is known in art & design circles as the ultimate tool to creating perfect composition, and has been used for centuries. It looks a little something like this:

iPhone Photography for Beginners: The Foundations of Composition

This is a pretty advanced form of composition, and I wouldn’t blame you for foregoing this one in favour of the simpler Rule of Thirds. However, if you are feeling adventurous, Sarah Vercoe explains how to use it to compose incredible imagery in an article from Apogee Photo:

The simplest way to compose an image to apply the Fibonacci Spiral is to visualise a small rectangle from one corner of your frame then bisect it from corner to corner so that an imaginary line crosses your entire frame diagonally.

The line will cross over several focal points associated with the Fibonacci Spiral within the rectangle. From here you can envision a spiral leading out from your main focal point in a wide arc leading out of the frame.

 Putting aside just how magical this photo is, note how the photographer (Sarah Vercoe) has captured her point of interest (the figure walking) right in the small rectangle, and built out the elements of her image from there.

Putting aside just how magical this photo is, note how the photographer (Sarah Vercoe) has captured her point of interest (the figure walking) right in the small rectangle, and built out the elements of her image from there.

Design Elements & Principles

The foundations of good design are also important tools in guiding you toward better composition. These will likely not be the first things you think about, but if you consider them within your frame, it is a huge step toward being a better image-maker!

Elements

Colour
Be mindful of your palette. It’s important from a branding point of view, but creating a visually appealing image using colour requires an understanding of the colour wheel and how each one interacts with the other. At a basic level, it's advisable to use either complementary or contrasting colours for highest visual impact. The images below are from my favourite Instagram colour-popper, Nikki @revisededitionstyle.

Line & Direction
Help the viewer's eye move through your image or point toward your subject by including lines. Diagonal lines indicate movement, vertical lines gives a sense of balance & formality, while horizontal lines suggest calmness & tranquility. How’s this one from the amazing Ruth @thecontentcreative??

iPhone Photography for Beginners: The Foundations of Composition (Photographer: Ruth Stephensen @thecontentcreative)

Texture
Add depth and interest to your image by including textural elements. This is mostly to do with prop choice, and you should bear in mind how you want to make your viewer feel (e.g. if you want to invoke a sense of calm, keep your textures light & floaty; for coziness, textures should be darker, warmer & more natural, such as wool & wood).

iPhone Photography for Beginners: The Foundations of Composition

Space
This refers to the area around, between or within the components of your image. Positive space is the shape of your subject and negative space is the open space around that subject. It’s important to note that the eye loves space, and negative space when done correctly will lead the eye firmly toward your focal point. My lovely Insta-friend Jenna (@alovelyspace) uses negative space to perfection.

Size or Scale
Thi kinda speaks for itself! Be mindful of how the size of an area occupied by one shape relates to another within the frame. This can have a dramatic impact on how the viewer feels about your image, and what they interpret from it. This one’s from my girl Christall @underthekowhai.

iPhone Photography for Beginners: The Foundations of Composition (Photographer: Christall Lowe @underthekowhai)

Value
This is sometimes also referred to as tone. This is about the lightness or darkness in your image and how that relates to the overall storytelling.

Principles

If you think of the Elements of design as the building blocks of your image, the Principles are how you bring those blocks together!

Balance
This refers to the distribution of visual weight within the image. There are two types of balance: symmetrical (evenly distributed weight) is considered, formal & stable, and is usually achieved through repetition. Asymmetrical (informal balance) involves different elements that achieve an equal visual weight, and is usually achieved through experimentation with colour, value or size (or a combination). For example, darker objects are considered ‘weightier’ than lighter objects, so while one element might be larger in size and light in colour, you can achieve asymmetrical balance by offsetting this with a smaller object that is dark in colour.

Harmony
Harmony is when a number of elements within the frame share common traits. It could be commonality of shape, colour, texture, pattern, size, style, etc.

iPhone Photography for Beginners: The Foundations of Composition

Contrast
The opposite of harmony, but equally as impactful, depending on what you want your image to say! The occurrence of contrasting elements creates interest and pulls attention to the focal point.

 Note the contrast of shape, colour & texture.

Note the contrast of shape, colour & texture.

Repetition
The rhythm of repeating a pattern over and over creates a dynamic image. Repetition suggests organisation and strength. It is formal and ordered.

iPhone Photography for Beginners: The Foundations of Composition

Dominance
Where one element stands out over the rest. Dominance can give an image interest, and counteract monotony. It is also an easy way to show your viewer exactly what you want them to focus on.

iPhone Photography for Beginners: The Foundations of Composition

Unity
Very similar to harmony, but generally refers to style alone. It is about telling one story at a time.

iPhone Photography for Beginners: The Foundations of Composition

There are other elements that go into creating incredible composition within an image such asthe rule of odds (i.e. groups of 3 are more visually appealing than pairs or groups of 4), depth of field, and lighting, but the above are really the foundations of good composition that you should learn to master before playing around with the details.

Of course, rules are made to be broken! There is no law that says you need to bind yourself forever to these rigid regulations – some of the best photographers flout these all the time! - but it is important to understand them and why they are almost always present within compelling imagery.

If you have any questions or comments, please shoot me an email at hello@littlestarsocial.com or comment below with your feedback!

Happy snapping!

Karli xx

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