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[Part 3] Composition Basics! “Center Composition” and “Symmetrical Composition”

In part 3 of this easy-to-understand guide for basic knowledge of composition, the "Center Composition" and "Symmetrical Composition" are described. These two rules are popularly used among professional photographers, so you are recommended to understand them well and try them out regularly. This article is ideal for those who have never paid attention to the composition when taking a photo. Let's learn the basics with the use of illustrations and photo examples. (Reported by: Tatsuya Tanaka)

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"Center Composition" Defines the Main Theme and Provides Strong Stability

The center composition has a strong effect of directing the viewer's attention

Gathers attention on the subject.

In this example of a center composition, a flower occupying a large part of the image is positioned at the center. The bokeh effect that spreads out from the center creates a soft impression of the flower.

"Center Composition": Take care of the overall balance of the image

As the name suggests, the main subject is placed at the center in a "center composition." This technique is commonly seen among photos taken by beginners, as establishing the focus at the center of an image tends to result in a center composition.
With the main theme placed at the center, the composition is stable, and clearly defines the photographer's intention. The center composition is particularly useful for capturing close-up shots of animals and flowers. However, attention needs to be paid to the overall balance. One way to do so is to create moderate space around the main theme. Instead of photographing aimlessly, you are encouraged to have a clear intention in mind when employing the center composition.

Ideal for stressing the main theme

Blurring the background to bring out the wild bird.

This shot of a wild bird tweeting is taken using a telephoto lens. Center composition is effective when you want to attract attention to the main subject in the image, but take care to simplify the background.

To make good use of the advantages of a center composition, which otherwise tends to turn out characterless, it is important that you pay attention to the surrounding space to bring out the main theme, and create a simple background.

Tip: Pay attention to the relationship between the background

To make use of the center composition, pay attention to the proportion between the background and the main theme. Some of the other techniques you would want to bear in mind would be to use background color that emphasizes the main theme or place an object that relate to the main theme.

"Symmetrical Composition" Expresses the Beauty of Harmony

Bring out the charm with a vertically or horizontally symmetrical composition

Horizontally symmetrical composition.

Technically speaking, this shot of trees in the late autumn is not horizontally symmetrical. Nonetheless, a symmetrical composition can still be created based on the symmetrical arrangement of the trees and the configuration of the leaves.

Vertically symmetrical composition.

The lake and the reflection occupy half the space in this shot, creating a typical symmetrical composition image. To capture the surrounding scenery clearly on the water surface, aim for the early hours on a windless morning.

"Symmetrical Composition":Prevent from becoming too routine

In a symmetrical composition, an image is symmetrically divided, vertically or horizontally, at the center. There are many objects around us that make good subjects for a symmetrical composition. Some commonly seen photographic works are shots capturing the opposite side of a lake reflected on the water surface. Others include photos with symmetrical architectural structures or roads positioned at the center. However, as this composition creates an image with similar patterns both at the top and the bottom, or on the left and the right, precautions need to be taken to prevent the composition from becoming too routine.

Composition using a reverse triangle

Use mirror reflections for more charming symmetrical effects.

I chanced upon this scene inside a fashion building. The beautifully-waxed floor creates a mirror reflection of the showcase. It is also possible to find objects in a city that make the subject of a symmetrical composition.

Tip: Direct the viewers' attention and create patterns for interesting image

To prevent the symmetrical composition from becoming too routine, create a regular pattern in the subject to define the main theme clearly by directing the attention of the viewer.

Tatsuya Tanaka

Born in 1956, Tanaka is one of the rare photographers who produce works across a wide variety of genres from an original perspective. These genres range from objects in our daily lives, such as insects and flowers, to landscapes, skyscapes, and celestial bodies. Besides photography, Tanaka has also developed his own approach in post processes including retouch and printing.