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Composition & Layout Techniques

Composition and Layout Techniques
An interesting and unique composition can turn a basic design into something special

In design terms composition is the combining of distinct parts or elements to form a whole. For example when designing a poster images, heading title and detail text are all combined together and included on the one page to form the overall image.



Compositional techniques relate to how elements of a design are positioned/used to enhance the overall aesthetic of the design. In order to help your understanding of the components of a design composition you may find it useful to read about the Design Elements and the Design Principles. Below is a short list of some of the most commonly used compositional techniques.

Linear Perspective:

Linear perspective is where parallel lines appear to converge. It is so called as the when this happens the lines give the appearance of perspective or depth in a 2D image. Using linear perspective lines draws the viewer's eye into the composition or to a particular point in the composition. Note how the railway tracks converge and lead your eye into the tunnel in the image below.

Linear Perspective seen in picture of railway tracks

Arrangement of Components:

This is the practice of arranging people or objects in an image in a particular way that leads the viewer's eye to a particular point in the image. Painters in Renaissance times were famous for doing this. The Last supper is a prime example. In this famous image, Leonardo DaVinci arranges the people, objects and structures in the image to direst the eye of the viewer toward Jesus. This belies the seemingly crowed and chaotic appearance of the scene at first glance. The image below is a last supper copy by the artist Mark Sanislo.

Arrangement of components seen in the Last Supper

Rule of Thirds:

This involves setting up the image in equal sections of three or a ratio of .33:.66 or one third is to two thirds. This techniques is very easy to use and is particularly effective in landscape or seascape photography. The rule of thirds is actually a more simplified version of the Divine Ratio (also known as the golden mean or golden ratio). It is not actually known why it works but it is globally accepted that the ratio creates a more aesthetically pleasing image.

The image below shows lines dissecting an area into thirds with the intersection points of the lines considered "interest" points where the eye is led to and which are ideal points at which to include focal points in an image which is using the rule of thirds. The graph may also look familiar to you from the display options on your digital camera!

Rule of Thirds graph

The divine ratio is too complex to discuss and explain here but more information can be found HERE. The image below is by Alistair Wilson.

Rule of Thirds is used in this photograph

Light and Dark:

This involves highlighting or framing certain areas of an image using light and dark. Chiaroscuro is a similar technique to light and dark, Chiaroscuro in art is characterized by strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition.

Light and dark is used to draw attention to the doorway

Geometric Forms:

Using geometric forms, such as squares, circles or triangles to frame an area of an image or to point/ direct attention to it. This can involve placing a person or object on a widow sill or in a doorway so the window or door acts as a "frame" around the person or object. More subtle techniques are more commonly used however. Renaissance paintings such as "The Oath of Horati" as seen below use geometric shapes to focus the eye of the viewer toward the crossing of swords which symbolise the Oath.

Geometric Forms are used in The Oath of Horati

Colour Interaction:

This involves using colours to draw attention to a particular part of an image. Red and yellow are the brightest colours. Colour interaction also involves using contrasting or complimentary colours to draw the viewer into the image.

Colour interaction draws attention to the red apple