Skip to main content

5 Basic Compositional Theories

Lesson 37 from: Photography 101

SLR Lounge, Pye Jirsa

5 Basic Compositional Theories

Lesson 37 from: Photography 101

SLR Lounge, Pye Jirsa

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

37. 5 Basic Compositional Theories


Class Trailer



The Camera is Simply a Tool


How Does a Camera Work?


How to Adjust Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO


Exposure Triangle


What is a Stop of Light


Reading Exposure Via the Histogram


Blown Highlights or Clipped Details


White Balance & Color Temperature


No Such Thing as the Correct Exposure


How To Measure or Meter Light


8 Key Points to Understanding ISO and Image Quality


Understanding the 3 Primary Metering Methods


How to Get Perfect Exposures in One Shot


Equivalent Exposure but Different Images


Compensating for Light and Dark Scenes


Starting with Automated Modes


Auto Mode and Flash-Off Mode


Portrait Mode on a Fashion Shoot


Landscape Mode on the Beach


Sports or Action Mode


Macro Mode with Food Photography


Creative Effects Mode - Floral Photography


In-Camera Processing


A Glimpse into RAW Processing


15 Tips When You’re Having Trouble Focusing


3 Primary Types of Autofocus


Single Shot with Portrait Session


Single Shot with Action Shots


AI Servo with Action Shots


Focus Recomposing vs. AF Point Selection


Shutter Speed and the Reciprocal Rule


How to Hold a Camera and Panning Tutorial


What Makes a Great Photograph?


How to Capture Candid Moments


How to Find the Right Light Direction


5 Basic Compositional Theories


The Power of Cropping


Color Schemes


Diving into the Narrative


If It’s Not Working With, It’s Probably Working Against


More About Your Camera and Lenses


Understanding Megapixels


Crop vs. Full Frame Cameras


Crop vs. Full Frame Cameras Demonstration


Prime vs. Zoom Lens


How the Lens Affects Composition


Dynamic Range and RAW vs. JPEG


5 Tips on Memory Cards


10 Tips on Buying Gear




The Good Karma Jar


Posing and Action Shots with Female Model


Posing and Lighting with Female Model


Posing and Lighting Couples Portraits


Lesson Info

5 Basic Compositional Theories

So let's talk about a different compositional theories. The first one wanted to talk about actually was was symmetry, and it can kind of be somewhat close to a bulls eye. But it's more of like a plan, bullseye, like there are scenes, for example, I've seen awesome landscape shots where the horizon line is on the center, because the sky is equally as awesome as the ground, and you have these leg awesome leading lines say, on a pathway that goes into it, those air cool those air great shots, but yeah, it's symmetrical, but it doesn't happen that way to be symmetrical. Basically symmetrical is just when you have equal components kind of top bottom left, right, you have that symmetry to it. So what kind of situations do you typically do? Cemetery type compositions if my image has a lot of geometry to it, leading lines circles something that just feels really balanced and good balance and can present a strong do you geometric kind of image, then symmetry is pretty good, and so is just the b...

ullseye idea. Actually, yeah, I love that things like architectural stuff, bridges things that have that kind of natural symmetry built into it look absolutely awesome when you use that. Rule okay, so that's symmetry now let's talk about the rule of thirds this is probably the rule of thirds is based on the golden ratio and this is probably the most overused of photographic compositions. But here's the thing it's overused why? Because it really works because it works it looks good you can watch it like any I don't know if this is going to ruin it for you, but after I learned like composition and lighting and so forth, I watch hollywood movies and that's like all I can think about, oh rule literally every single shot is rule of thirds, but rule of thirds is great because, you know you can frame your subject and one spot on that one third and you leave two thirds of that open space to kind of really set the scene for it. So when are you typically using rule thirds actually use it for a lot of things. I watch my horizon line so that it's on the bottom third or the top third, I use it for portraiture. Even I I find that a lot of my images are either left heavy or right heavy because it feels good to me. Yeah, I do the same thing and you mentioned anything with the horizon line putting it the bottom third of the top third one way that I decide that is really just based on what's more interesting on that particular day so if I'm out of the beach and I'm shooting say a couple on the beach if that particular day we have amazing clouds what do you think I do expose more of the clouds yeah, I go one third ground to third clouds because that's the more interesting part of the shot if the clouds are just kind of for the day or there's no clouds it doesn't look good I go two thirds ground because that's maurine wherever the story is exactly the kind of choosing a based on that I also like tio you know, especially with portrait something like that framing them even regards to the distance on that one third line generally gives really nice shots to show those kind of environmental portrait's too actually if you look at the faces, they're kind of composed the same way as well the most important the most interesting and important part of ah face to communicate emotion is an eyes which is actually on the top third and if you are shooting on up have a pretty symmetrical face like yours I don't know where it could be a more dimensions like like down here yeah kind of funny looking but if you were to zoom in and do a portrait shot it's easy to say that the I should be on that top third and it makes very interesting photo absolutely so rule third is a great technique just because it's used a lot doesn't mean you shouldn't use it the next of our five basic compositional theories is leading line this is another one my favorites and it's really a great when you could actually combine all these different I mean you can combine a lot of these different you'd have ah shot that has symmetry it's also using rule of thirds it's also using leading lines you could kind of mix and match but basically leading lines are when your lines and your scene are naturally leading into the subject. This is one of my favorite things to look for just because it adds so much interest to a shot like you have all these lines pulling right in the one little spot it brings the viewer's eyes down to that place and when do you usually look for these kind of shots? Um you know I use it everywhere in weddings for example it's really easy using the aisle to direct the eye it's almost like just a dotted line of arrows you where to look exactly and I can think of one shot just recently like last week I did an engagement shot and I saw this bridge and that it was a bridge but it had this like kind of silver will show the image but had this like silver top to it ok, now the bridge itself looks pretty crappy but if you get down low and you shoot up you have these crazy leading line so basically I got down low place the couple in the left corner and I use the leading lines for the bridge to pull all the way to the couple and you end up with this really kind of cool composition that you wouldn't get otherwise and I think we're even we used well that one's kind of more of a negative space plus rule of thirds because we had him in the left third as well so you guys can check out that shop so leading lines are awesome for offenses isles lines that are natural and architectural look for these kind of things that really draw attention into your actual subject and by the way we've been using a lot of portrait examples but that doesn't necessarily need to be the subject of seven could be really anything that use leading lines two and actually leading lives don't have to be just straight lines either be spirals so let's say that kind of shot where you're looking down on a spiral staircase and you're directing the eye toe look down into your subject absolutely I've seen great photographs to of like you know they use street signs and arrows place in certain areas that point to the actual subject in the photograph those air also as well all our kind of kind of just building on that same idea of leading the eye in the composition over to the actual subject think about it a as connecting the dots to your subject, the pretty dots right now, number four is triangles and geometry, and it kind of has a piece of leading lines in there, but triangles and jeon tree is a big part of architectural photographs and not really justin shooting architecture by itself, but also in when you're shooting portrait's in an architectural kind of scene, but also triangles on the body like we do that a lot, I actually use that a lot, especially in glamour and just female portraiture, there's something about triangles and v's that are very flattering. For example, I am sitting this way for a reason because it creates leading lines and it frames the body properly exactly lots of trying, and for some reason, scientific studies show triangles to be very interesting to look at, so you'll see it all the time in fashion, in everything in buddha and all that kind of stuff you're posing and just even basic composition. If we look at, for example, japanese botanical gardens cardin's where they do the three thing it's triangles really is what it is there's a low, middle and high, and it teaches your eye, teo emphasize yes, oh, geometry that another one of those compositional theory that's great toe look for in any scene creating triangles and the other thing it does too that I forgot to mention is we actually show it a lot one proposing her model but you we create space with triangles, right? Like bringing our model's arm off the side of her hip so it's not flat against there it creates space. It creates an opening in addition to making more interesting to look at, it also slims down what it slimmed down the appearance of arms and legs and so forth. And what about in groupings as well? It changes levels of people, especially when you've got people of similar height it's easy to pose three or four people if you're doing triangles with their height maybe there once seated one standing up in one's leaning you're treating interesting in their line absolutely like kind of won once seating one like kind of mid height and then one little bit higher, right? Right yeah so we need a third person right here stand right behind this creep along with his hand on shoulders. Okay what's going on number five and that's negative space that's kind of something we referred to earlier negative space is just leaving basically part of the frame a lot of the frame open and I love negative space is one of my favorite compositional kind of rules or theories just because it creates so much I don't know visual wait on the subject because everything else in this image is kind of empty and so I did shots like that we actually did a shot like that during the shoot where we did the shot of these balloons with our model and you can see that's very much a negative space shot and negatives base to me there's two types right there's one that's like where is just empty color empty sky whatever it is it's just empty but then there's another type of negative space that's just it could be pattern there's the subject's a very small piece and it just some sort of other pattern in the other side where there's something in that space kind of like that first downtown shot that we described there's something there but it leads into the subject and it kind of is just empty space it takes your focus away from nothing but your subject just kind of what it does kind of like music there's a lot of heavy usefulness in silence. Yeah, totally. So when do you use negative space all the time I seem to be using all these five things all the time but I use it for portraiture a lot or just when I really wanted clear out my image and I'll actually use shadows more than light teo fill in with negative space one of my favorite things about negative space to is that if you are creating additional products if you're its editorial ifyou're doing thank you cards if you're doing whatever anything, any type of additional product where you might put text negative space is a must have I mean when you're forceful yeah when you're publishing in a magazine they want to pick images or if you're trying to get published in the magazine especially its editorial they won't pick images that they can place text next to I should say probably more commercial use because you basically place like an advertising or whatever it is or first a thank you card for a couple they would have them in one area and you have open space to place the text that that text isn't over an area that's busy in a photograph so it worked extremely well in those kind of cases where you wanna place text or an advertisement or whatever is definitely better absolutely so these are the five basic compositional theories that we wanted to go over in this video now of course if you're interested in composition well really there's books and they're incredible resource is that dive completely into all these subjects it's fascinating tto learn but it's really beyond the scope of this dvd because you could read entire books on the subject of composition we've just scratched the surface trial these things I think between these things most of my images, probably ninety five percent of them, would fall into one of things that we describe. If not, if not basically all of them. Well, a good exercise would be when you're flipping through images in a magazine or through your own photo, see if you can identify one of these five items, or maybe all of them are as many of them as you can and teach your eye. Teo, learn about it, look for it and then compose it yourself. Absolutely so that's. The challenge for this video we want you guys to do is to go out shoe images with these specific five compositional theories in mind. When you get awesome shots, upload himto star lounge dot com so we can check him out. Tell us about them, why you chose those compositional theories and how you feel they kind of emphasize and enhanced the subject. All right, that's it for this video will see you on the next one.

Ratings and Reviews


I watched this class "live" and was simply amazed at the amount of information Pye covered. Yes, he talks a little fast, and since I was streaming the class I couldn't stop it to review anything, but this guy really knows his stuff and explains it very well so I absorbed quite a bit. Bye is enthusiastic, clearly enjoys his craft, and delivers excellent information to students in a light heartedI and fun way. I think some reviewers are a bit harsh about his humor. Lighten up, people! His examples and the additional information his co-host provides are very worthwhile and you can tell the course was well thought out. I plan to buy the class to help me get back into DSLR photography.


I really enjoyed this class. I am not a beginner, but there were still things I learned here that I found helpful. I really enjoy learning from Pye. He is quick, gets to the point and doesn't spend a lot of time going over and over the same point. There is a wide variety of things that he covers, so really something for everyone. I would recommend purchasing this class if you want to understand your camera better, improve your technique and start taking better photos.

Joy Bobrink

I have tried to learn photography myself via the internet / YouTube but always felt like I was missing something in my foundation. Sure I can zero out my meter...but why? How do I know the settings I've selected are the correct ones? I've been circling this drain for a year until this course. WOW! Pye has SO MUCH information in every video. He doesn't just stand in a classroom and talk, he's out in the field actually putting his settings into his camera, talking about why and why not and then shooting. He's hands on the entire course. You don't just hear him, you see exactly what he's doing! I'm a visual / listening learner and this is my eureka moment! Thank you Pye! Watching the Exposure video and how you changed the settings yet maintained the exact same exposure was mind blowing. Awesome course! I would recommend this to anyone new to photography or anyone that feels like they don't have all the info.

Student Work