In-Depth Photography Composition Tutorial

historic photo depicting composition

Photography composition is one of the fundamental areas one has to master to create amazing photos. Some people have that internal feeling that dictates what works and what doesn’t. Others have to spend some time adjusting their minds to the new principles and concepts.

Composition principles are often called laws or rules. I wouldn’t call them that. Rule means it must be obeyed while some of these “rules” contradict each other. This means, there are certain recommendations or techniques that work in some cases and don’t work in others. We’ll still call them rules for convenience and integrity but feel free to pick which one to use or to break. But to break the rule you must first know it.


Photography in general is all about telling a story and composition is the best tool to achieve the results. A single aspect of framing is capable of telling a different story every time. Have a look at each crop from the photo below and try to figure the plot. It could be about the surfer, about the beach, about the weather, about the rebellious spirit, etc.

photography composition example

What story are you trying to tell?


There is no right balance you need to chase. Some photos need to be balanced (majority), some work best being unbalanced to increase the tension and drama. It’s all up to you and your story. All elements have their part in the balance measurement. Dark, saturated, bright areas have a higher visual weight than the neutral ones. Also, the visual weight increases towards the edges of the frame. The chart below demonstrates various balance scenarios.

photography composition guide anton gorlin

Balancing composition chart by Anton Gorlin


Everyone has an idea how to draw a diagonal within a photo. But it’s not that simple! The diagonal must lead the viewer’s eye inside of the photo, not out of it. So, if you are drawing a broad smear across the whole photo there is a chance the viewer’s eye will wander out of the frame, lose interest and walk away. Instead, make it go into the frame while still being diagonal.

photography composition diagonals

Another aspect of the diagonal is its direction. It appears, the direction has a strong influence on the overall mood and psychological impact. The first thing that affects how we perceive the image is that we naturally scan the image left-to-right. This way, an ascending diagonal is a challenge for the eye to overcome hence creating a sense of challenge for the subject of the photo.

storytelling using diagonals in photography, anton gorlin

This leads us to the conclusion that even a simple flipping can produce a different story.


This article originally appeared on Anton Gorlin’s blog. This excerpt only covers a small amount (5%) of what there is to learn about Photography Composition. View the full Photography Composition Guide.

Author Bio

Anton Gorlin, originally from Ukraine, is a landscape and a real estate photographer residing in Sydney, Australia. He picked up photography accidentally – during a business trip to Australia. Anton conducts online landscape editing lessons and seascape sunrise and sunset workshops in Sydney. (Facebook | Instagram)

One Reply to “In-Depth Photography Composition Tutorial”

  1. The thing you did with the squares on the photo in the “Storytelling” section would be a pretty cool exercise for a photography class. Or heck, maybe that’s already a thing, haha.

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