Motive and image composition

motive and image composition

Only when you think about what makes a motive or situation so appealing, how you want to show the eye-catcher against its background and in its immediate surroundings, and what frame you should choose, will your snapshots become appealing photographs. Image composition is a creative process. However, there are a number of helpful composition tools that can be learned and practiced, and that can be used by any amateur photographer.

The information on image composition provided in the following sections is designed to help you understand the difference between a snapshot and a more arranged and considered photographs. You will develop photographically with the help of the composition rules presented here, and over time you will find that your photograph becomes much more appealing. If this results in so much creativity that you can play with motives and details – all the better.

Basic design rules

Anyone who consciously designs a picture is creative. However, not every design is a stroke of creative genius. On the contrary, the vast majority of design rules can be learned quite easily. Photography is 95% a craft. Probably, photography consists of 25% technique, 70% design rules and 5% creativity and the intuition of the photographer. He/she recognizes very special situations and makes excellent pictures out of them. Intuition cannot be taught, but the technique should be there. So let’s deal with the creative craft.

Place motive in image

The most basic question in photography is where to place the main subject in the picture. Most of the time, you simply focus on your main subject in the center of the viewfinder/monitor. While there are certainly motives where symmetry is appropriate, such as a reflection in water. One could place the intersection between the motive and the reflection in the center of the image. Apart from these exceptions, however, it is usually a good idea to try an off-center placement first to bring more tension into the image.

To test this, you can simply arrange a small still life of a table, a wall and a glass (vase, ashtray, cup, etc.). Now the motive is first photographed at the same camera distance in the center, on the left, on the right, a little further up and further down. Here you can already begin to see the effects that the placement of the main subject can have. If you now change the distance or the focal length, the rebalancing of the motive, table and background also results in new perspectives. If you are far away, the motive looks small, lost, fragile. If you get close, the motive comes out big, and – depending on the focal length – you can create almost whimsical perspectives.


There is also an alternative to silhouette images: if you set the exposure so that the main subject, which is illuminated from behind, is shown brightly, the bright background is naturally completely outshone. This can also look very attractive if, for example, you show a person in front of a brightly shining background and later soften the image on the computer.