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One photography composition rule that always work!

Most of you that practice photography might have already heard of all the common compositional rules such as the rule of third, fibonacci spiral, golden ratio, etc which might be hard to memorise or even apply sometimes. In this article, we are going to discuss a way to hack all these rules into one rule that will always work in photography. Yes you heard it right the one ultimate rule to score your composition.  


Believe it or not, our visual interpretation are made in a way that favours things that are visually symmetry. Although there are exception when asymmetry subjects creates visual tension but most of the time it is not the case. Applying this implication into photography, the ultimate goal is to achieve a visually balance composition.


Visual balance may be achieve through combining different photography elements such as symmetry, lighting contrast (positive and negative field), matching vertical or horizontal lines, placing subject in the middle of the frame, frame in frame, complimentary colours, depth isolation, leading line, etc. All these are essentially divided into into 2 main category which is formal balance and informal balance.


Formal balance are usually closely correlated with symmetry where the visual weight on the left of a photo is usually match closely with the right. Same theory apply top and bottom of an image. Subjects in this category are usually center weighted and easily interpreted in a frame. This is said to be an easy approach in achieving visual balance. It is also a good way to easily present your subject and translate a message in a photo.

Interpretation: This image has an easy interpretation as both left, right, top and bottom of the image are matched almost equally when splitting the image into 4 pieces.

Interpretation: This image has a harder interpretation than above as it is not that obvious. However, if you read it carefully it has the same concept. Notice the subject was placed in the middle and if you split the image into 2 section left and right, they will almost match up equally. If you even decide to split the image top and bottom, the visual weight from the bright spot at the top part of the image will also balance up with the visual weight of the subject below.


Informal balance however would be a less straight forward approach into achieving visual balance. It may be a combination of a few different photography elements in a frame to achieve visual balance. This approach will usually work when composing for a more artistic frame or interpreting a more complex scene.

Interpretation: This image is a combination of positive and negative field, depth of field, subject size, horizontal lines, number of subjects and layering. Eventhough there are 4 subjects in the background, it is balanced with the larger and out of focus subject in the foreground. The larger positive (brighter) background is also balanced with the smaller negative (darker) portion foreground. The horizontal lines sets an anchor for layering in the photograph. Through combination of all the elements above, visual balance is able to be achieved.

Interpretation: This image has a combination of leading lines, positive and negative field, complimentary colours, depth of field and subject matter. The leading line and both brighter and dimmer light sets an anchor leading the eye into the frame. The depth of field seperates the smaller foreground subject (human) from the larger background (trees). The complimentary colours come into play between positive and negative element in the frame. Orange at the dominant highlights and deep shadow while blue dominates majority of the bright elements.


This compositional rule might seems easy but it does require constant practices to be able to handle it on the fly subconsciously when you have an in-depth knowledge of the photography elements. Through proper exercise, you will be able to understand how your eye interprets scenes and create your own unique visual sense. Perks of this method, you will also be able to declutter your brain and express yourself freely with photography according to your art sense and not limited by rules. But of course certain rules applies when situation allows.


Tips to achieve visual balance for starters: Keep your eye open to look for visual dominant element in your frame. It can be colour, lights, subject, texture, and quantity. Other techniques that you have learned previously can also be combined accordingly to enhance your composition.


*Now try to interpret the photo below accordingly as a practice* (Tips: identify all the photography elements before interpreting)

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