What is good Composition?

Become a member of the CGSociety

Connect, Share, and Learn with our Large Growing CG Art Community. It's Free!

Thread Tools Display Modes
  07 July 2005
What is good Composition?

I've been trying to study other people's paintings and photos to try and figure out what makes good composition, and how to use composition to evoke certain thoughts or feelings. I've never had a teacher (yet?) who ever really spoke about it.

What do you all think makes for good composition? In terms of perspective, light, color and form.

(I've heard some people say "it's intuitive" - that's complete garbage to me. Most of art can come intuitively to a person, but there's a method and a science to it all.)
  07 July 2005
Originally Posted by tevih: (I've heard some people say "it's intuitive" - that's complete garbage to me. Most of art can come intuitively to a person, but there's a method and a science to it all.)

I do think it can be intuitive for some people, but you're right, there are some basic guidelines. Those who think "it's intuitive" have just looked at a lot of good pictures in their life, and so have a certain instinct for what works. They may not be able to explain what works, but they do play by the rules nonetheless.
  07 July 2005
Composition is a broad subject, but it basically comes down to some technical points and a mix of what feels right.

Here's a couple of basic examples showing your average composition techniques, like rule of thirds, negative space and leading lines:

Perspective and light makes a huge difference to the emotion of a piece. A sheer perspective with harsh light can make a character or scene seem meancing, as opposed to a simple, natural light with eye-level perspective.
"There Really is No Secret"
Martin Brennand - mocha Product Manager - Imagineer Systems
  07 July 2005
There is some method to the madness, yes. The problem is that everybody has their own preferences in composition, and every age has its own preferences in composition. The Renaissance enjoyed extremes of harmony and gracefulness, where the Baroque preferred engaging, powerful organizations. As for this age, we have the unprecedented ability to see art from all over the world, from all walks of life, from all history -- From our desks. We can see and do anything, and the art world has exploded in so many directions that it's impossible to pinpoint a right or wrong way to do anything.

That said, there are SOME matters of composition that are proven to work, and have been used for centuries because they continue to work. (What continues from this point forward is just rolling off the top of my head, so expect some rambling)

Regarding light and form, the best advice I can offer about composition is to remember that the Positive and Negative both need to be considered. When you're looking at a model in a 3d program and you make even the slightest camera move, the positive space (the model) will change very little, but the NEGATIVE space will go through all kinds of changes! It'll intertwine through the peices of the model that stick out, it'll grow and shrink to accomidate the positive space, in short it'll be more interesting than even the subject itself! If you plan your compositions while considering the negative space as much as the positive space, all kinds of crazy images'll just roll out effortlessly.

Same with light; remember that illuminating the subject is not always as important as making the subject work in the composition -- And to do this, you can treat light as a form in itself. If you cross your eyes, you lose all sense of detail; only light and shape remains. If the image still looks good to you when you do this, you're on the right track.

Now, let's see if I can get closer to composition itself...

There are three kinds of composition -- Symmetric, asymmetric, and radial. I think the names are fairly self-explanatory. Their purposes are more of a grey area. A symmetric composition will automatically give your image a harmonious quality, and often a very stiff or formal feel as well. It has a habit of capturing the subject right in the middle of the frame, giving a visual distance between the viewer and the artwork. It is often quite useful to make the subject seem important, to focus the attenion on that alone. Asymmetric compositions are more informal, more active, and on the whole more engaging. For scenes involving action, involving emotions, involving story, this is usually the composition you'll defer to. Radial compositions also have a very harmonious feel to them, but have a lighter, freer feel than symmetric ones. You don't see it often in art, strangely.

That's what you start with. What your result is from there depends greatly on what you do. A few tips, though:

-Working in threes is often effective for visual interest. Raphael used this a lot, designing his compositions around a pyramid shape so that the viewer's eye would be unconsciously led all throughout the image.

-Greater contrast draws attention. For example, the sword-fight between Jack Sparrow and Barbossa in the cave, when they were seen as silhouettes under the bright streams of moonlight; your eyes could help be be drawn to this shadow-play instead of the dim cave surrounding them. Or one of the closing shots in War of the Worlds when his family was in the foreground and Tom Cruise was a tiny little guy in the distance; you could feel this ocean of separation between them not just because of their physical distance, but because of the deliberate juxtoposition of the two elements.

-Warmer images are happier, cooler images are more sedated. An image showing a woman wearing yellow in sunlight will seem happier than a woman wearing blue in twilight. Color is very visceral to people; it's one of the few things that everybody responds to identically. Yellow makes us happy, red makes us hungry, blue makes us calm; white is pure, black is mysterious, green is vibrant. Pink has a calming effect too, but also can be frighteningly maddening as well. My professor once told me about an experiment conducted with guinea pigs where they were placed in various color enclosures to study its effects on their temperaments; when they were placed in the pink enclosure, they seemed to calm for awhile, but then they freaked out and ate one of their fellow subjects There was apparently another similar experiment in a prison, which didn't end well either. But I digress -- If you research color's effect on the mind, that'll help a lot for your pursuit to add emotional impact. Also remember that warmer or more intense colors will stand out in an image while cooler or duller colors will recede into the background.

-Perspective in composition tells a lot. If you look dead-on at the subject, you'll either make them seem either important or boring, depending on the surroundings. You'll visually distance it from the viewer unless the subject actively pierces the negative space surrounding it. Same goes for things from the profile; by preventing the subject from engaging the audience, you force the viewer to consider what he sees as something separate from himself. If you look up from underneath a subject, you'll make it seem more powerful; if you look down from above, you'll make it seem diminished. If you place the subject right in front of the focal point, you'll emphasize it.

There's a lot more to be said, but I'm tired of typing and since I am not by any means qualified to teach this I can't even be sure it helped ya any Hope it did, though.
  07 July 2005
What he said.
"There Really is No Secret"
Martin Brennand - mocha Product Manager - Imagineer Systems
  07 July 2005
In school I learned most about composition in photography classes, so if you want to learn more those are the classes I recomend. It's debatable as to whether you should follow rules but if you're interested here's a good site about it.

Most artists develope a preferred composition pattern that show up in all their work whether they realize it or not, (someone pointed mine out to me and I wasn't sure how exactly to feel, now I do it intentionally). The main thing I'm conscious of is to use the composition to move the viewers eyes where I want in the right order.
Without fear and illness, I could never have accomplished all I have.
-Edvard Munch
  07 July 2005
Another important point in composition is how to balance out contrasts. A bright point in one corner may need lots of dark space in the other. A square object among lots of round ones may unbalance the composition if it's too big. A small dab of complimentary colour in one corner may be all that's needed to balance out a lot of another colour in the other corner. But because everything influences everything else (the colour dab that worked before may be totally overwhelming if a line divides the canvas space) it really does become more of an intuitive thing because it can get far too complex if you just try to follow academic rules.

  07 July 2005
I'm just sort of wondering why you didn't look in the sticky thread Art theory links & tutorials first...
Hm, maybe we need to plug it or something. Lots of good stuff in there guys.
Here's the relevant section:


(No images, only the text)

Many similar points with the following:
Composition for Landscapes, but most of it also holds for any image.

Aesthetics in Symmetry:

Gestalt Theory in design:

Last edited by Stahlberg : 07 July 2005 at 09:56 AM.
  07 July 2005
Great thread!
Thanks for the links Stahlberg!
.::We only have 2 limits:
+ time
+ imagination
  07 July 2005
Stahlberg - woops!! I had looked at the thread a long time ago and forgotten it had composition....

I am still interested to know how other people work, though, regarding composition. I know some people first come up with a composition based on color and they paint in a way to fit that, while others may think of a particular perspective or pose. What's your favorite way of working with composition and why?
  07 July 2005
Originally Posted by chrisbeaver: ...
-Warmer images are happier, cooler images are more sedated. ...

Care needs to be given to interpretations of how color affects individuals. It tends to differ with different cultures. Cooler hues do have a trait of appearing to receed in relation to warmer values, and that can be useful in composition construction.


  07 July 2005
I think of compostiton in terms of the relationships objects have to each other, the relationships of the art ellements (line, shape ect) and the relationship of all this to the frame (edges of the peice). One must also learn abit about visual literacy and the way we see and percieve information.
Look up books like Universal Principles of Desgin, and my favaorite -Composition in Art by Henry Rankin Poore. Read art history as this is one of its main concerns- tha change in the way artitsts compose over time. It is a vast and interesting subject ones ability to work and grow within it is a halmark of a mature artisit. Places like http://northlightbookclub.com/ have lots of books like problem solving in oil painting ect. this is usually the topic of concern with books like this, good books about drawing someitmes address the problem of compostition. YOu really need to study painting to understand composition, except that study of sculpture the way sculptors use space helps with some of the special problems of 3d work.
Have a ball and read read read, although frankly one good drawing/painting class with a live human being is worth a thousand books- it also makes all those books finally make sense.
  07 July 2005
Thread automatically closed

This thread has been automatically closed as it remained inactive for 12 months. If you wish to continue the discussion, please create a new thread in the appropriate forum.
CGTalk Policy/Legalities
Note that as CGTalk Members, you agree to the terms and conditions of using this website.
Thread Closed share thread

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Society of Digital Artists

Powered by vBulletin
Copyright 2000 - 2006,
Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Minimize Ads
Forum Jump

All times are GMT. The time now is 05:59 AM.

Powered by vBulletin
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.