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Mastering Centered Composition: Say Yes to 'Dead Center'

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One of the most common composition tips that any beginner photographer receives is to get the subject out of the "dead center". Indeed, placing your subject right in the middle of the frame is probably the easiest and most obvious thing to do, which often results in boring and uninteresting photographs. Does that, however, mean that one should never center the subject? Of course not! Centered composition is something very easy to do, however, it is hard to do it really well. Let's see how to create an exciting centered composition.

You may have already heard that there are no strict composition rules in photography, only guidelines (even the famous Rule of Thirds is not an absolute rule despite its name!). Guidelines are helpful to orient beginner photographers towards what we call a balanced composition. So once you have learned how to get your subject off center, it's time to experiment and bring it back in, however, more thoughtfully this time.

1. Place the important thing in the middle

Remember another famous photographic guideline "less is more"? It often works very well in combination with the centered composition, when all you want to do is to draw the attention to your main subject and nothing more. Below are two very similar photographs of St Paul's Cathedral in London. One is composed according to the Rule of Thirds and includes a person in a foreground, while the other boldly concentrates on the famous dome itself. Both compositions work perfectly well: if there are no additional elements in the foreground, it makes sense to emphasise the cathedral by placing it right in the middle of the frame.

Centered composition 1

2. Symmetry means centered

Neatly centered composition is the best way to emphasise various kinds of symmetry, both horizontal or vertical. Whether it's an architectural rhythm, horizontal or vertical reflection, make it stronger by dividing your frame right in the middle.

Centered composition 2
Horizontal symmetry

Centered composition 3
Vertical symmetry

3. Emphasise calm and serenity

A photograph may convey very different moods; not all the images need to be dynamic. Centered composition will help to accentuate the stillness and steadiness of the view, to bring even more calm into a landscape:

Centered composition 4

The view of the bay in La Rochelle was so peaceful and quiet that I decided to reflect it in my composition by equally separating the water and the sky and placing Saint Nicolas tower right in the middle of the frame:

Centered composition 5

This is probably one of my favourite photographs: the sea and the sky, of almost the same milky colour separated by a fine, barely visible line of horizon and a few islands right in the middle. This makes the view truly meditative:

Centered composition 6

4. Go square

Just like centered composition, square format is at the same time simple and tricky to handle. A square in itself is a very steady figure, lacking the dynamics of a usual rectangular frame. Since all the sides of the frame are equal, why not place something interesting perfectly in the middle? By the way, Instagram is a perfect place for such photographic experiments!

Centered composition 7

5. Tighten the close-ups

The center of the frame works perfectly well for various close-ups and even tight portraits. Flowers, door handles, even your favourite cupcakes will feel very well when centered. Keep it simple, clean, and strong, and remember to exclude all the distracting elements!

Centered composition 8 Centered composition 9

Finally, whenever you decide to center your subject, center thoughtfully and share your best results with us!

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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.