2 Easy Ways to Improve Your Image Composition

Jul 23, 2020 at 10:00 am by Warlord720

Improve Your Image Composition

A long time ago, in a place not that far away a wise person took me aside and asked if I would like to make compelling image renders instead of "show off" renders. A "show-off" render comes naturally to almost all of us that are hooked on this digital art thing. What good does it do to create something cool and not show it off?

While we may have made, at least in our minds, a compelling scene the truth is a well-composed render has at least one or two… gasp… rules to follow. Now I know art is all about doing your own thing and that is highly encouraged, but we are all doing our own thing and it's easy for artwork to get lost in the shuffle of new posts.

There are a LOT of great artists showcasing their work at Rendo and a lot of almost great artists that haven't quite got it all together yet. We've all been there. You have to start somewhere and very few of us were naturals at this thing.

After retiring from full-time freelancing I still feel the rush of putting together an image or showcasing a character and wanting it to be SEEN!!! The great part now is I get to show them off to anyone instead of just a select few bosses and decision-makers. Not everyone is as enthralled with my work as I am… I know… hard to believe… but, when I was shown a couple of things that altered my composition habits, I started getting positive feedback.

Anyone can create a render, but it takes discipline along with skill and creativity to make consistently noticed renders. And consistently noticed renders are interesting renders.

This is where the main rule comes into place… the Rule of Thirds.

From Wikipedia:
The rule of thirds is a "rule of thumb" or guideline which applies to the process of composing visual images such as designs, films, paintings, and photographs.[1] The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.[2] Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject.

A lot of new artists have no idea this rule even exists, but it is a simple way to make a render more interesting by where you place the subject be it a character, prop, or scene. Yes… scenes too… like a landscape. Have a plan and a focal point then place that focal point according to the Rule of Thirds.  

The image Wikipedia provides is a good example of this rule:

Rule of ThirdsLine subject up via thirds versus a centered shot. (By Tadrart01.JPG: Pir6monderivative work:
Teeks99 (talk) - Tadrart01.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12219811)

The natural inclination is to center your subject but that is counterproductive as it creates a rather boring shot. By placing the subject within the confines of the rule you at least break away from the center shot pitfall. In some cases, you may be instructed to center the object but unless it's a catalog type shot create at least one Rule of Thirds shot to go with the requested shot as a nudge.

Something as simple as this rule can start getting you noticed more.

Lighting is another key aspect. If it is an intimate scene, you don't want bright lighting. You never want mono or single light scenes unless it's called for like a candle in a dark room. Even then you can improve the render by adding soft lights but try to follow the 3-Point Light method:

From MasterClass :
Key Light – This is the primary and brightest light source in the three-point lighting setup. It gives a scene of its overall exposure. Cinematographers typically position this main light slightly off to the side of the camera and the front of the subject, on a light stand at a 45-degree angle to the camera, which creates shadows on the opposite side of the subject's face, giving it dimension and depth.

Fill Light - Mirroring the key light on the opposite side of the camera, the fill light literally fills in the shadows that the key light creates on a subject, bringing out details in the darkness. Typically, this secondary light is less bright than the key, and cinematographers control the overall feel of their shots based on how much they dim or lighten the fill light.

Back Light - The third source in this lighting technique, the backlight (also known as the "rim light" or "hair light") shines on a subject from behind, completing the light setup. This creates a rim of light or outline around their head that pushes the subject away from the background and gives a sense of depth. Typically, cinematographers position the backlight directly behind the subject or high enough to be out of frame, opposite the key light, and pointing at the back of the subject's neck.

3 Point LightingA simplified view of 3 point lighting. Works with photography and digital art.

Just keep in mind that a good render has to tell a story in a single shot and unless it's a movie poster or something like that then don't just stick the subject the center with simple lighting. Something as simple as adding a bush or prop in the foreground, so long it doesn't distract from the subject, can also add a little bit of pop via perspective but following the Rule of Thirds and proper lighting can make a bad subject look good when handled properly.

M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website

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