9 Composition Techniques That Will Make Your Images Eye-Catching on a Biological Level
The composition of a shot can not only make it pleasing to the eye, but it can also speak volumes to your audience.
But what are some ways to approach cinematography to raise the aesthetic energy, as well as let it be used as a narrative device? In other words, what are the "rules" of good composition, and why are they considered good? (Hint: It has something to do with human biology.) Celebrated editorial photographer Steve McCurry, best known for his "Afghan Girl" portrait that first appeared in National Geographic, shares 9 tips that might help.
Rule of Thirds
This is probably the most well-known "rule" of composition. This principle states that by placing points of interest along one or more of the imaginary horizontal and vertical lines, or on one or more of the four intersections, your image will be more pleasing to look at.
These imaginary lines, also called vertices, help lead your viewer's eye into your image, which creates depth -- a must for our dimensional medium. It creates a sense of kinesis and movement, which adds to your image's aesthetic energy.
Like leading lines, diagonals are vertices that lead your viewer's eye, but instead of them being lead into your image, they're lead across, which creates "movement". This is probably more important for still photography, but if you're shooting a static shot -- even if elements within the frame are moving -- it's a great way to create kinesis.
You can use something natural, like windows and doors to create a frame within a frame, but you can get creative, too. One of my favorite examples of unique framing comes from The Tracey Fragments, which was the first feature to use Mondrian multi-frame compositions for the entire film.
Figure to Ground
We tend to notice things that contrast -- in fact, it's one of the main ideas in Gestalt psychology. By creating contrast between your subject and the background, you can create depth, as well as help your viewer orient the subjects within the space.
Fill the Frame
Get close! According to many aesthetic theories, the size of an object within the frame directly determines how much aesthetic energy (i.e. importance) it has: the bigger it is, the more "important" it is. (Remember also that this will be the first thing that your audience is most likely to look at.)
Center Dominant Eye
As McCurry points out, by positioning the dominant eye of your character in the center of the frame, it gives the illusion that it is following you.
Patterns & Repetition
Humans are naturally attracted to patterns -- I guess we don't like, or can't easily make sense of, chaos. So, using repetition will immediately attract your viewer to your image, but including an element that breaks the pattern will keep your images interesting and your audience engaged.
In the same way we love patterns, symmetry for our eyes is like Nutella for our tastebuds. (If you don't like Nutella, what's wrong with you?) Scientists still don't really know why humans like symmetry so much, but tests have proven that those with symmetrical faces are considered to be more attractive (some say because it indicates health), while those with asymmetrical faces are considered less so. There have even been studies that reveal that babies will stare longer at symmetrical pictures than they will at asymmetrical ones.
Let me say this -- and I can't stress this enough -- there are no rules when it comes to cinematic art, whether it's writing, editing, or cinematography. Using these techniques correctly will almost ensure that your image will be aesthetically pleasing, because of our human biology, but you do run the risk of creating images that are predictable, common, and quite frankly, boring. I'm sure when you first saw a bird's eye view of a coffee cup you were like, "Whoa, what a unique perspective," but now that every teenage girl on Instagram is flooding our shared creative space with these images you're probably like, "Please stahp." I'm with you. But creativity and ingenuity is all about "copy, transform, combine," right? Why don't you try that with these 9 tips?
What are some films that break these compositional "rules" effectively? Let us know in down below.