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How to use centered composition in your photography

I am a fan of centered composition because I believe it is an effective way to give your subject importance and an easy way to tell the viewer where the main focus is. I know a lot of people think it is easy to center a shot, some say it feels amateurish and avoid centering their subject at all cost... for no reason.

The thing is, why have your subject off-centered if it's not justified? Every decision you make will have an impact. I've said it before, each shot must be thought out, and whatever your choice is, it must be motivated. You may not make the best decision, but at least, you are taking one.

What is your story? What message do you want to convey, what are the different elements that compose your shot... what do you wish to capture and why? This raises a lot of questions that I personally try to answer before I release that shutter. I don't shoot and crop later, once the image is captured most of the work should be done unless the project needs some heavy compositing or digital enhancements.

"Centered composition" has been an important part of my photography since I started working regularly with wide-angle lenses. They distort and warp your scene and of course, your subject. Unless this is something you are going after the only way to minimize this effect is to center your main focus.

There is no Ambiguity here, even if your subject only represents a small portion of your shot we know they are the main focus. I personally love the impact and epic feel it gives to as scenes and poses.

Eloïze Rignon - Musée des Augustins (Toulouse - France)

5D mark III + Broncolor Siros L (800ws)

1/250 f4 ISO100 at 16mm

Lyria Van Moer - Palais des festivals (Cannes - France)

5D mark III + Broncolor Siros L (800ws) 1/1600 f9 ISO320 at 11mm

Usually, I do play a little bit with the distortion by shooting from the bottom up. When working with dancers, this gives them long legs and I just love that perspective. Lauren Kennedy (Toulouse)

5D mark III + Broncolor Siros L (800ws) 1/1000 f5 ISO200 at 16mm

Another reason to center your subject is symmetry. I love Wes Anderson, if you don't know who this amazing film director is, shame on you. My work has nothing in common with his in terms of aesthetics but we do share that love of symmetry and centered shots.

Tatiana Van Onna - W hôtel (Amsterdam)

5D mak III 1/500 f5 ISO100 at 41mm

It doesn't have to be perfect, symmetry can be induced by only a few common elements on the right and left sides of your shot.

Casey Wood - Capitole (Toulouse - France)

5D mark III + Broncolor Siros L (800ws) 1/250 f2.8 ISO320 at 16mm

Alice Fougeray - Nice (France)

5D mark III + Broncolor Siros L (800ws) 1/200 f5.6 ISO250 at 16mm

Centering your subject helps to increase a feeling of Isolation... Of course, you have to make sure nobody enters your shot :

Charlotte le May - Cité de l'Espace (Toulouse - France)

5D Mark III + Broncolor Siros L (800ws) 1/80 f2.8 ISO320 at 16mm

Another way to make a strong centered composition shot is to use leading lines.

Nhât Nam Lê - Pavillon Joséphine (Strasbourg - France) 5D mark III 1/60 f2.8 ISO320 at 26mm

Nhât Nam Lê - Bibliothêque André Malraux (Strasbourg - France) 5D mark III 1/640 f3.2 ISO100 at 50mm

It also works amazingly when using frames or a frame within a frame,

Emma El Achkar (Strasbourg - France) 5D mark III + Broncolor SirosL (800ws) 1/4000 f7.1 ISO400 at 200mm

And sometimes simple elements in your scene just beg for you to center your shot :

Gillian Leopold Eilen Roc (Antibes - France)

5D mark III - Broncolor SirosL (800Ws) 1/400 f5 ISO400 at 11mm

Of course, you may have noticed that I used a lot of wide angles in all the examples above. I often fill my frame and play with the background and environment to compose my shots. When photographing a busy scene with a lot of elements, I tend to simplify the pose and do my best to guide the viewer towards my main subject, and centering sometimes is my best option.

Basically, think twice before using the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, or whatever composing techniques out there. If you don't balance your shot, having your subject off-centered won't make it work, and it certainly won't make your photo more interesting. So compose wisely, and not randomly, and stop applying stupidly a few rules you learned on the web. What about you, do you center your subjects? No? Why? Tell me in the comments below.


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