Composition Tip: Overlapping Elements

As photographers we can fall into patterns of behaviour with our compositions. Breaking out of it can be as simple as changing our perspective and overlapping elements in our images.

First, let’s have a look at a concept for an image that may not be working as well as it could.

NOTE: Click on image to enlarge.

Nikon 1 j5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-180
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-180. Captured from typical standing perspective.

There are some potentially positive elements in the image above. We have a large rock in the bottom right, acting as a corner anchor to add to the sense of depth in the image.  There is a leading line formed by the series of rocks to the left of the corner rock that help bring our eye into the image. This connects to the foliage of the trees and the distant shoreline which further directs our eye.

There is a hint of some cloud interest in the sky but likely not enough to finish off the top right corner properly. There is some rather ugly dirt in the bottom left corner as well as some dried grass. These combine to create a greyish-brown blob that is larger than the feature stone and competes with it. This tends to draw our eye away from the potential flow of the photograph.

The framing of the photograph does not create any real drama in the image. Overall there is a lack of balance in the photograph as well as an absence of clarity in terms of what the image is attempting to do visually.

The root of all of these issues is a very simple habit that many of us (including me) fall into…creating images from a normal, standing position. Photographs taken from this typical vantage point often cause us to look down on foreground elements. It can also make it difficult to achieve balance in our images in terms of using the rule of thirds.

Now, let’s look at the exact same scene shot from a different perspective.

Nikon 1 j5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160. Captured from lower perspective allowing for overlapping elements.

This second image was captured with the camera held just above the surface of the water. The rear flip screen of the camera was tilted at 90-degrees to help aid in the framing of the photograph.

You can see that the change in perspective allowed some different things to happen with the image. First, the bottom left hand corner is cleaned up considerably and doesn’t detract from the composition.

There is much better balance in the image as the horizon now cuts across the bottom third of the photograph. The large stone in the bottom right still acts as a corner anchor for the composition but now also becomes the dominating element in the image. The leading line, while somewhat weaker still helps to pull the viewer’s eye toward the left hand side of the photograph.

Shooting from the lower perspective allowed more cloud details in the sky to be captured which helps to add a bit more interest and finish off that section of the composition.

The lower perspective also created a much stronger left to right flow in the image as the tree line has a more logical and pleasing sweep.

And finally one of the most important changes in the composition. By purposely overlapping the top corner of the feature stone in the bottom right with the trees on the horizon, a stronger feeling of depth is created. The image also has more drama and a clearer sense of visual purpose.

Composition is an intensely personal thing and I appreciate that some folks may prefer the first image. The purpose of the article was simply to demonstrate an alternative composition technique.

My intent is to keep this photography blog advertising free. If you enjoyed this article and/or my website and would like to make a modest $10 donation through PayPal to support my work it would be most appreciated. You can use the Donate button below. Larger donations can be made to through PayPal.

As a reminder to our Canadian readers, you can get a special 5% discount when ordering Tamron or Rokinon lenses and other products directly from the Amplis Store.

Article and all images are Copyright 2016 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. If you see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use.

3 thoughts on “Composition Tip: Overlapping Elements”

    1. Thanks Ian – I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Like you, I also love using the tilting touch screen on the J5 for these types of compositions. The only difference with me is that I have the touch screen turned off as I still prefer manually moving the single AF point to exactly where I want it rather than relying on my fingertip.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *