Composition – Part 2

Last time, we talked about composition being the organization of the elements of visual arts according to the principles of said art (in our case photography). We explored point, line, form, texture, color and the values as the basic elements of composition and created a padawan challenge for you. This week it is time to look at the guiding principles of harmony, balance, dominance, emphasis, similarity, contrast, and movement.


Harmony is named after the Greek goddess Harmonia. Her Roman sibling is Concordia while their opposite is called Discordia. And you see where this is leading to. Harmony is a pleasing combination of elements, or arrangement of sounds in music. And concord is the agreement of harmony between elements. In order to achieve harmony in your composition, there are some methods that can be applied to the elements we explored last week.

Perspective, or the relative distance between lines and shapes, is probably one of the most important methods in toy photography as soon as you step outside the studio, into the wild. 

An important composition technique one can use on purpose (think about the work of Elgin Park and Avanaut to just name two icons) and master as a craft and art form. Or we use it playfully when caught out on the beach (or struggle to get it right). Getting perspective right adds to the harmony, and getting it wrong will create discord with the viewer.

Here Stefan played with perspective in Aarhus.

The other methods used to get a harmonious composition are using similarity between the elements, create a continuation through leading lines and creating a rhythm. The rhythm is particularly worthwhile to point out, as the golden ratio could be considered a rhythm of repeating Fibonacci numbers, and therefore adds to the harmony of the composition of the image.

And yet there is no rule that says that a composition needs to be harmonious. There is no right or wrong.


The second principle of photography is about creating a balanced composition with all the elements involved. There are different methods that can be applied to get a balanced composition and basically to keep it simple we have two working models. Symmetric and Asymmetric.

Symmetry aims to have balanced and equal properties in the composition along the main axis. Symmetric compositions have a tendency to lean to harmony.

Symmetry and balance can be achieved in the most simple way. Here Maëlick placed the subject in the center of the frame.

And just as with our goddesses Harmony and Discordia, the opposite of a symmetric composition is an asymmetrical one.

Balance can also be achieved by placing the subject off-center. Then, balancing elements on the right with similar or dissimilar elements on the left can lead to a sense of harmony. Note here the (a)symmetry between dark and light elements on the left and right.

Asymmetrical compositions push the balance out but they also peak the interest for the unknown. The usage of negative space in an asymmetrical balance is one of our favorites and comes back to the principle of contrast.

This photo similar to the previous one where the Snow Queen was in the center. However, here the subject is off-centered. Note how the pose of the minifig has changed. If she had been placed facing the camera straight as in the first picture, the sense of harmony would have been different. Here the negative space on the right is balanced by her body and staff pointing to the right.

Dominance and emphasis

The principles of dominance and emphasis are to make sure that the subject of your image stands out and has the right emphasis. Again we can use the elements to make our subject stand out. Make sure the color of our subject is dominant and supplemented in the background. Have the leading lines lead to our subject. Have our subject eyes be focused on what matters in the message along the leading lines. And less is more.

Even though the car takes only a (relatively) small portion of the screen, it appears dominant. Chris emphasized the car in two ways. First, by using leading lines. Second by playing with the contrast of the warm saturated orange of the car and the less saturated cold blue of the environment.

Similarity and contrast

The last two guiding principles in composition. These two complement each other.

Similarity is about having elements in the frame that are similar. This can be repetition of the same elements, creating a pattern, rhythm or balance. Or it can be different elements that have visually something in common.

One of Chris photo where the repetition of the same elements create a leading line and rhythm.
Karine also used repetition in one of her favorite photo from last year.

Contrast is the opposite of similarity and opposes elements that are visually different. This is what can lead to asymmetry and can also be used to create patterns, rhythm or balance.

Another of Chris showing contrast in two ways. First, there is a contrast between a small and large subject, but also a contrast of light and shadow creating leading lines.

Contrast and similarity can be created based on different elements: empty or negative space, position, form, direction, size, color/value, texture, number, and more.

Here Bev used the contrast between a white textured background and the dark shadow of her Sigfig.


When we think about movement in photography, we usually refer to the movement of an object in a scene and trying to capture it with a camera, either by freezing the action or by creating motion blur.

In the visual arts, when we talk about movement in composition, the term refers to the movement the eyes of the viewer make while looking at the photos. When you look at an image, do your eyes stay in one place? What does attract your gaze?

Here Beverley used repetition, texture, leading lines, and a symmetrical balance to have the eyes lead to her Sigfig.

All of the elements and principles stated previously lead to certain (eye) movements. Lines, shapes, size, color, brightness, contrast, patterns, textures, similarity. All will make the viewer gaze at a picture in a specific way. Understanding how these work and where the eyes go is key to understanding composition.

Here, Bev used the pattern of light on the roof to lead the viewer eyes through the photo.

The master challenge on composition

For those of you who were thinking along the lines of creating an image with the golden ratio stamped all over it, you can still do that and tag it #SiPgoesTT_pw_phi as a bonus padawan challenge. But the master challenge is hopefully a little bit more inspiring and challenging for yourself.

  • Go back to your last images. So the original three and your padawan challenge. 
  • Take a pen and paper and look for guiding principles in each image. For example…
    • How do you approach harmony in your composition?
    • Are your compositions mainly symmetrical or do you seek a more asymmetric balance in your composition? 
    • Are you looking for (eye) movement?
    • Along guiding lines?
    • With a stopping point?
  • Write all these elements and principles down on a piece of paper. 
  • Now, take a familiar subject. 
    • It can be a space cowboy, an elf, or maybe batman.
    • Or one of the latest minifigure bags you have not yet unsealed.
  • And think of a simple story you want to tell. 
    • For example, Batman goes swimming. Space cowboy is happy while driving. Or a portrait of an unknown minifigure. 
  • Great. 
    • You should now have a paper with composition elements and principles on paper.
    • You have a favorite subject.
    • And you kind of know the story you want to tell.

Now go ahead and create an image where you apply the composition elements and principles we introduced. Put the focus on pushing your boundaries of harmony and balance. Yet stay in line with your portfolio, your body of work. Pay attention to composition elements and principles. 

Once you are happy, post your image on IG with #sipgoesTT_composition. 

As always we also have our forum where you can upload your work for a deeper discussion.

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