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What we all strive for:


Well-known member
A good composition , but what is a good composition?
Must it contain elements of design; must it evoke an emotion; must it tell a story?
Some good compositions are very complicated; some are plainly simple…mostly negative space.
In my senior years…attempting to keep my mind active and alert…I challenge myself to create with my camera something artistic..something provocative…yesterday I posted this in a Sony forum…a really simple nature image with clean lines and some design elements…one of my friends commented that he thought it was a good composition…whatever that is!


Subscriber Member
I agree with Godfrey . A very good composition . For me , it is somewhat agressive but also natural . Turns me on .

What is a good compositioon , what is a good image ? ? ?
That question arises to me since many years again and again . Who dares to say "that" image is good or bad ? ? ?
I can only always speak for myself .


Well-known member
... the dead tree? is worth a photo on its own when cropped!
it grows slightly from left to right and then swings strongly and flatly upwards to the left into the picture space.

A bird has settled on top, which in turn shows an ascending line from bottom left to top right ...
it is also looking backwards, rotated by 180° - and for me that is the dot on the "i".
it doesn't get any better than that!

Yes - for me this is also a good composition!
Congratulations Stanley!


Subscriber and Workshop Member
For me, it's the dust spots. NO! Wait. That's pure jealousy. Magnificent photo on many levels. Tree, bird, playoff of their forms against each other. Light. Sky.

Entering pontification mode (sorry):
Composition, like the theory of harmony in music, is an attempt in hindsight to put structure around what some geniuses did. Its rules are very helpful to us non-geniuses to help us avoid unfortunate image layouts, and it gives us words to use so that others know what we're talking about when we critique an image, but it is nothing but a very incomplete language.

This is a great photo. It happens to be a very good composition, but that's not what makes it great.

My 2p,



Well-known member
A very good picture, indeed. Is it a "good" composition ? Don't know. And don't know what is a "good" composition. When a picture catches the eye, we don't know why. And perhaps, after a deeper insight, we see that, among many other things, it's very well composed.
Eric Bouvet, a French photographer of whom I attended a "lecture", told us that a good picture should obey three laws : the good light, the moment ("l'instant décisif", as said Cartier-Bresson), and.... the composition. But he didn't tell us what it was. Alas !


Well-known member
The lines. Parallel lines. Body and branch. Beak and branch ponting in opposite direction. Balanced elements. Harmony. For me, that makes it a good composition.


Well-known member
From a well-known Dutch war photographer: a picture should tell a story, should make you think …


Well-known member
Staff member
sorry for nitpicking, but if you had it posted in the sony forum, why post it again in the MF forum?


Subscriber and Workshop Member
sorry for nitpicking, but if you had it posted in the sony forum, why post it again
Apologies for jumping in.
As someone who makes not-strictly-speaking-medium-format posts in this forum, I can say that my reason is wanting to discuss something photography related with this particular community. And, of course, something I feel would be of interest here. I feel like I live here in Medium Format, and these are the people on getDPI that I know. I am grateful to Stanley for bringing that image to our attention. I would have missed it and the ensuing discussion otherwise.



Well-known member
Hi @stngoldberg I have a couple of points to add to the discussion

1. most critiques which talk about 'composiiton' in an actual photograph are pos thoc proctor hoc observations - but when it comes to composition there are some commonly accepted things which appeal to most people's sensibilities
2. the human brain is 'hard wired' to see certain geometric shapes in particular lines vertical, horizontal and Y angles - ther is actually a part of the brain in every human being which has been identified by MFRi scanning in observational studies which verifies this - so no surprises we like our vertical vertical and horizontal horizontal and (interestingly) the Y shape in angles - we like to see triangular shapes as well or patterns - in fact it is this part of the brain and its synaptic wiring to the rest of the brain - which largely determines people's aptitude in mathematics ( as an example) - but I am wandering here..
3. Finally your photograph evidences an interesting shape that is also commonly liked - the "S" shape or inverted S shape - in studio photography models are often asked to pose with an S shape and you will see this shape in many fashion and life style shots

Regarding your photograph you have the pattern/shape/indication of one long S shape starting from the bottom of the branch to the top of the bird- - and you have also captured a second shape - the bird is showing an inverted S shape in its turned head apposite the body...

These reactions in people are mainly subconscious and happen pretty much immediately when observed as regards compositional factors in not only photography but also engineered products, sculptures and architecture and are cross cultural and universal - reflecting the 'lizard' part of the human brain ie early evolutionary development.


Well-known member
@stngoldberg raises a point we all struggle with. What makes a good image? Let's just assume technical proficiency. Beyond that, a good arrangement of elements (composition) can be operationally defined as one that holds the eye longer. Stan's photo wants to be looked at and the arrangement of elements plays a large part in that. So does the excellent pop on the bird, by the way.

When does composition occur? In the old days, when photography took effort and time, composition was a primary process. We had to apply trained skills to compose in camera because every shot was an investment. Today, we tend to compose more in post than in camera. However, the principles that define the art are the same. A good composition is built upon a set of principles that have fed image makers throughout history, from cave art to rolling shutters. As @PeterA says, we are wired to like certain things and we can compose to tinkle those neural ivories,

And then there are those of us who are too stubborn or stupid (or both) to learn from history. We just arrange the photo elements intuitively. The result is that we may like our compositions but it is unlikely others will. Are we poor composers? To the extent that we would starve as photographers I suppose we are, but that doesn't matter to a hobbyist. What I am saying is that if you like it, it's a good composition.


Well-known member
Photography is interesting because for the most part it pretends that nobody else has thought about things like composition. Meanwhile, in painting and drawing, ideas about composition have been discussed, clarified, debated, and codified for centuries. I learned more about composition in photography from Henry Rankin Poore's Pictorial Composition: An Introduction, than I did from any "composition for photography" book. Poore's book is for beginning art students... Another effective book is Molly Bang's Picture This: How Picture's Work.

Michael Freeman is a photography writer I have found quite good because he is well aware of the history of painting and the roots of composition, but he's also an accomplished commercial photographer. He has written many books that I've found useful for myself, and in teaching. A couple worth noting include The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos and The Photographer's Story: The Art of Visual Narrative. I work mostly in groups of photos, so the second one has been particularly informative.


Well-known member
The composition is excellent, with its elements in their basic shapes forming a pleasing arrangement. One standout aspect of Stan's work, as I've come to know, is his mastery of color. The color in this piece is lovely, and the blue hues of the bird are genuinely fantastic!


Well-known member
I don't know much about composition, formally. My education was in Mathematics, not Art.

I just know what I like in photographs (and other image/sculptural art forms). Some combinations of line and shadow, curve and rule are pleasing to my eye. That's what I call "Good". Others are not pleasing. That's what I call "Bad"... :D



Well-known member
One of the most important aspects, the one that will hold people's attention is tension. Tension can be lines coming to a point, it could be the juxtaposition of incongruous colors or anything that conveys a feeling of anticipation.

Stanley's picture has tension in the way the bird and tree lines diverge, in the color of the gray tree, the black bird and the white sky.

The lines lead the viewer and the tension holds him.


Well-known member
... in painting and drawing, ideas about composition have been discussed, clarified, debated, and codified for centuries. I learned more about composition in photography from Henry Rankin Poore's Pictorial Composition: An Introduction, than I did from any "composition for photography" book.
I know only one book on/about photography that contains a constructive, detailed & comprehensive discussion of composition and that's Bruce Barnbaum, The Art of Photography: A Personal Approach to Artistic Expression, 2nd Edition. Has a chapter titled "What is Composition?" followed by a chapter titled "Elements of Composition". IMHO, worth buying just for these two chapters. (No affiliation, association, or relationship except that I have taken numerous workshops with Bruce Barnbaum.)

The volume The Art of Photography of the 17-volume Life Library of Photography Series (1981) has a good "starter" discussion of visual elements (or elements of art) and modes of organizing according to visual principles (or principles of composition).
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Maybe my way of looking at photos is too simple but if I can picture the photograph hanging on a large wall then I succeeded.