In the visual arts, composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements or 'ingredients' in a work of art, as distinct from the subject. It can also be thought of as the organization of the elements of art according to the principles of art. The composition of a picture is different from its subject, what is depicted, whether a moment from a story, a person or a place. Many subjects, for example Saint George and the Dragon, are often portrayed in art, but using a great range of compositions even though the two figures are typically the only ones shown. The term composition means 'putting together' and can apply to any work of art from music to writing to photography that is arranged using conscious thought. In the visual arts, composition is often used interchangeably with various terms such as design, form, visual ordering, or formal structure, depending on the context. In graphic design for press and desktop publishing, composition is commonly referred to as page layout.
1 Elements of design
1.1 Line and shape 1.2 Color 1.3 Texture 1.4 Value 1.5 Form 1.6 Space
2 Principles of organization
2.1 Viewpoint (leading with the eye)
3 Compositional techniques
3.1 Rule of thirds 3.2 Rule of odds 3.3 Rule of space 3.4 Simplification
3.4.1 Shallow Depth of Field
3.5 Geometry and symmetry 3.6 Creating movement 3.7 Other techniques
4 Example 5 See also 6 References 7 Further reading 8 External links
Elements of design Main article: Elements of art The various visual elements, known as elements of design, formal elements, or elements of art, constitute the vocabulary with which the visual artist composes. These elements in the overall design usually relate to each other and to the whole art work. The elements of design are:
Line — the visual path that enables the eye to move within the piece
Line and shape
Lines are optical phenomena that allow the artist to direct the eye of
the viewer. The optical illusion of lines do exist in nature and
visual arts elements can be arranged to create this illusion. The
viewer unconsciously reads near continuous arrangement of different
elements and subjects at varying distances. Such elements can be of
dramatic use in the composition of the image. These could be literal
lines such as telephone and power cables or rigging on boats. Lines
can derive also from the borders of areas of differing color or
contrast, or sequences of discrete elements. Movement is also a source
of line, and blur can also create a reaction.
Subject lines contribute to both mood and linear perspective, giving
the viewer the illusion of depth. Oblique lines convey a sense of
movement and angular lines generally convey a sense of dynamism and
possibly tension. Lines can also direct attention towards the main
subject of picture, or contribute to organization by dividing it into
compartments. The artist may exaggerate or create lines perhaps as
part of their message to the viewer. Many lines without a clear
subject point suggest chaos in the image and may conflict with the
mood the artist is trying to evoke.
Straight left lines create different moods and add affection to visual
arts. A line's angle and its relationship to the size of the frame
influence the mood of the image. Horizontal lines, commonly found in
landscape photography, can give the impression of calm, tranquility,
and space. An image filled with strong vertical lines tends to have
the impression of height and grandeur. Tightly angled convergent lines
give a dynamic, lively, and active effect to the image. Strongly
angled, almost diagonal lines produce tension in the image. The
viewpoint of visual art is very important because every different
perspective views different angled lines. This change of perspective
elicits a different response to the image. By changing the perspective
only by some degrees or some centimetres lines in images can change
tremendously and a totally different feeling can be transported.
Straight lines are also strongly influenced by tone, color, and
repetition in relation to the rest of the image.
Compared to straight lines, curves provide a greater dynamic influence
in a picture. They are also generally more aesthetically pleasing, as
the viewer associates them with softness. In photography, curved lines
can give graduated shadows when paired with soft-directional lighting,
which usually results in a very harmonious line structure within the
There are three properties of color. Hue, brightness, and value. Hue
is simply the name of a color, (red, yellow, and blue, etc.)
Brightness refers to the intensity and strength of the color. The
lightness and darkness to a color is the value.
Viewpoint (leading with the eye)
The position of the viewer can strongly influence the aesthetics of an
image, even if the subject is entirely imaginary and viewed "within
the mind's eye". Not only does it influence the elements within the
picture, but it also influences the viewer's interpretation of the
For example, if a boy is photographed from above, perhaps from the eye
level of an adult, he is diminished in stature. A photograph taken at
the child's level would treat him as an equal, and one taken from
below could result in an impression of dominance. Therefore, the
photographer is choosing the viewer's positioning.
A subject can be rendered more dramatic when it fills the frame. There
exists a tendency to perceive things as larger than they actually are,
and filling the frame full fills this psychological mechanism. This
can be used to eliminate distractions from the background.
In photography, altering the position of the camera can change the
image so that the subject has fewer or more distractions with which to
compete. This may be achieved by getting closer, moving laterally,
tilting, panning, or moving the camera vertically.
There are numerous approaches or "compositional techniques" to achieve
a sense of unity within an artwork, depending on the goals of the
artist. For example, a work of art is said to be aesthetically
pleasing to the eye if the elements within the work are arranged in a
balanced compositional way. However, there are artists such as
Rule of thirds: Note how the horizon falls close to the bottom grid line, and how the dark areas are in the left third, the overexposed in the right third.
The rule of thirds is thought to be a simplification of the golden ratio. The golden ratio is thought to have been used by artists throughout history as a composition guide, but there is little evidence to support this claim. Rule of odds The "rule of odds" states that by framing the object of interest with an even number of surrounding objects, it becomes more comforting to the eye, thus creates a feeling of ease and pleasure. It is based on the assumption that humans tend to find visual images that reflect their own preferences/wishes in life more pleasing and attractive. The "rule of odds" suggests that an odd number of subjects in an image is more interesting than an even number. Thus if you have more than one subject in your picture, the suggestion is to choose an arrangement with at least three subjects. An even number of subjects produces symmetries in the image, which can appear less natural for a naturalistic, informal composition. An image of a person surrounded/framed by two other persons, for instance, where the person in the center is the object of interest in that image/artwork, is more likely to be perceived as friendly and comforting by the viewer, than an image of a single person with no significant surroundings. Rule of space Main article: Lead room The rule of space applies to artwork (photography, advertising, illustration) picturing object(s) to which the artist wants to apply the illusion of movement, or which is supposed to create a contextual bubble in the viewer's mind. This can be achieved, for instance, by leaving white space in the direction the eyes of a portrayed person are looking, or, when picturing a runner, adding white space in front of him rather than behind him to indicate movement. Simplification Images with clutter can distract from the main elements within the picture and make it difficult to identify the subject. By decreasing the extraneous content, the viewer is more likely to focus on the primary objects. Clutter can also be reduced through the use of lighting, as the brighter areas of the image tend to draw the eye, as do lines, squares and colour. In painting, the artist may use less detailed and defined brushwork towards the edges of the picture.Removing the elements to the focus of the object, taking only the needed components. Shallow Depth of Field In photography, and also (via software simulation of real lens limitations) in 3D graphics, one approach to achieving simplification is to use a wide aperture when shooting to limit the depth of field. When used properly in the right setting, this technique can place everything that is not the subject of the photograph out of focus.
The blurred background focuses the eye on the flowers.
At a smaller aperture, the background competes for the viewer’s attention.
A similar approach, given the right equipment, is to take advantage of
A simple composition with cloud and rooftop that creates asymmetry.
Related to the rule of odds is the observation that triangles are an
aesthetically pleasing implied shape within an image. In a canonically
attractive face, the mouth and eyes fall within the corners of the
area of an equilateral triangle.
There should be a center of interest or focus in the work, to prevent it becoming a pattern in itself; The direction followed by the viewer's eye should lead the viewer's gaze around all elements in the work before leading out of the picture; The subject should not be facing out of the image; Exact bisections of the picture space should be avoided; Small, high contrast, elements have as much impact as larger, duller elements; The prominent subject should be off-centre, unless a symmetrical or formal composition is desired, and can be balanced by smaller satellite elements the horizon line should not divide the art work in two equal parts but be positioned to emphasize either the sky or ground; showing more sky if painting is of clouds, sun rise/set, and more ground if a landscape Use of detailed areas and 'rest' areas can help to aid the eye in where to look. Creating a contrast between detail and lack of detail is important
These principles can be means of a good composition yet they cannot be applied separately but should act together to form a good composition.
Also, in your work no spaces between the objects should be the same. They should vary in shape and size. That creates a much more interesting image.
Example These paintings all show the same subject, the Raising of Lazarus, and essentially the same figures, but have very different compositions:
Geertgen tot Sint Jans, 1480s
Guercino, c. 1619
Rembrandt, c. 1630
^ Esaak, Shelley. "What is the Definition of
Arnheim, Rudolf (1974). Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the
Creative Eye. University of California Press.
Downer, Marion (1947). Discovering Design. Lothrop Lee & Shepard.
Graham, Peter (2004). An Introduction to Painting Still Life.
Chartwell Books Inc. ISBN 0-7858-1750-6.
Grill, Tom; Scanlon, Mark (1990). Photographic Composition.
Watson-Guptill Publications. ISBN 0-8174-5427-6.
Peterson, Bryan (1988). Learning to See Creatively. Watson-Guptill
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Langford, Michael (1982). The Master Guide to Photography. New York:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Composition.
Percy Principles of Art and Composition,