Why and How Composing A Nature Photograph Well

Knowing how to compose a nature photograph is just as important as knowing how to frame it, or choose a point of view, or manage the negative space. It is difficult, and requires a lot of experience and maturity. To be able to compose a photo well, a nature photographer must have a clear vision. Here are some things that I think are necessary for creating compositions that have impact.

Pour composer cette photo de paysage, nous avons longtemps chercher le meilleur point de vue pour arranger tous les éléments.
To compose this landscape photograph, it took me a long time to look for the best point of view to arrange all the elements.

The Meaning of «Compose Well»

A viewer’s eyes scan a photograph from left to right first, then along the diagonal. That is how you read things. Composing a photograph is arranging the visual elements in order to create unity in the scene.

What Goes Into a Photograph

A photograph is composed of the following elements:

  • The photographic elements: the points of interest.
  • The attributes: shapes, masses, shadows, and light. These reinforce the photographic elements.
  • The reading reinforcements: guidelines and optical surfaces. These make the photo dynamic and give it rhythm.
  • The emotional reinforcements.

The photographic elements should be simple. They must ensure that the scene is unique. If there are two points of interest in the composition, the viewer’s eyes will move back and forth between them. It is essential for there to be a relationship between them. Otherwise, there will be a rift in the photograph.

If there are two points of interest, the construction of the scene must be coherent. The subjects must be on strong points. Some techniques you can use are the rule of thirds, having the subject reference something that is off-screen, or having the subject off-center.

For attributes, you can use masses, but pay attention to the balance between them.

For reinforcing elements, the guidelines should lead the eye to the subject. Oblique lines have more impact and make the photo more dynamic. The shapes give rhythm to the image.

  • Diagonal lines convey power.
  • Horizontal lines convey depth, calm, and rest.
  • Vertical lines are widely used in action photos. They convey strength and tranquility.
  • Vertical or horizontal framing can either strengthen or counteract the effect produced by the lines.
  • Optical surfaces are combinations of lines and angles.
  • When a triangle is pointing up, it elevates the photo spiritually. When it points down, it causes imbalance.
  • A square balances the photo and gives the impression of stiffness.
  • Ovals and curves give an impression of softness and femininity.

Stylistic "figures of speech":

  • Alliteration: the repetition of signs, or "visual rhymes". It enables the photograph to catch the viewer’s eye and attention, and strengthens the aesthetic of the photo.
  • Metaphor: allusions and formal or symbolic comparisons (e.g. using brain coral as a symbol for the brain).
  • Hyperbole: for example, using a wide angle lens for a close-up to exaggerate everything.
  • Zeugma: a mirror effect.
  • Synecdoche: using part of a subject to stand for the whole (showing just a crocodile fish’s eye to tell you what kind of fish it is, for example).

A good composition, is above all, a collection of visual data organized according to a scheme that invites the audience’s gaze to follow the photographer’s approach well. There is no universal answer because the choices are endless.

The Debate Over Whether to Center the Subject

A centered point of interest produces:

  • A normal point of view.
  • An easily-read photograph.
  • A stable photograph.
  • An emphasis on a unique point of interest.
  • An emphasis on simple patterns on a plain background.

However, centered subjects lead to boredom and limit the reading of a picture.

An off-center point of interest produces:

  • An unstable position.
  • A dynamic photo.
  • A stimulating image that causes the viewer to search for a new balance.
  • An image that holds the attention of an audience better.
  • Better transmission of a message or emotion.
  • An opportunity to use the rule of thirds.


A photographer needs time and experience to be able to compose and create a harmonious photograph. He also should also have a lot of sensitivity to the way an audience will look at the picture. To bring his gaze to bear properly, a photographer must above all learn to look all around him, not just through his viewfinder. Knowing how to compose a photo is knowing how to transmit what you feel.

Be humble, patient, constant, persevering, and persistent because the road to excellence is long.


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