Photography embraces a number of approaches to composition. There are approaches on top of approaches. There are approaches that are systems. There are systems that are approaches. There are "sure-fire" approaches and there are "guaranteed” systems. Most of these are cookie-cutter methods that are more interested in the system than in the photograph being made. But in reality the composition of the image has to reflect the communication or the story that is being told.

There are three basic principles of composition that we always need to remember. And these are directly from the Six Traits:

  • Selection or element choice (from Trait 2): This is what to leave in and what to leave out. If we leave too much in, the photograph can become confusing. If too much is left out, the photograph can be sterile. With either extreme, the communication suffers.
  • Clarity of subject and supporting detail (from Traits 3 and 4): The subject is unambiguously stated and the supporting details narrow it, provide additional information, set the context and create the visual layers that involve the reader.
  • Recognition of the significance of the subject of the photograph within the message of the overall project (from Traits 4 and 5).

These three concepts work together to tell the story or communicate the message. In a "tight" composition all three elements work together to communicate a concise, coherent message. If one element is removed or diminished, the image loses some of its impact.

While what to photograph is a personal decision, there are some things to consider when figuring out how to approach it:

The Center of Interes (also referred to as the subject): assuring that the center of interest and the supporting details are appropriate for the message is the most important consideration of composition. The center of interest certainly does not have to be the largest thing in the frame or in the center of the image, but it clearly needs to be the main thing. It has to be what the photograph is about.

And, to repeat and reinforce an earlier concept, here is where the photograph goes well beyond simple restatement and becomes a very personal statement. This center of interest incorporates the photographer's perceptions, impressions, appreciations and understandings of the subject. After the center of interest is determined, the supporting details narrow the presentation.