The art of composition is full of rules; one of them being, “Don’t ‘bullseye’ your subject in the center of the frame”. Overly centered compositions are generally considered static and boring — the “Rule of Thirds” which we all learn early on, is a way to break the static nature of centered compositions. But, there are times when centering the subject is appropriate and will result in a stronger image.
A centered composition can help to emphasize symmetry, the classic example of which is a forest of fall colours reflected in a mirror-still lake — placing the horizon line of the far shoreline, dividing the top and bottom halves of the image (forest vs. reflection) equally.
Symmetry can be expressed through centering in either the horizontal or the vertical axes of an image. By centering the subject in the image below, symmetry is implied in the right and left halves of the image below.
The dominance of a singular subject is emphasized when centered in the frame. This works well when you want to hold the viewer’s eye on your subject, particularly when there are no other items in the frame that add to your visual story
The subject dominance created by a centered framing choice often works very well in portraits. This very direct framing choice helps create a sense of connection between the subject and the viewer.
Elements of a circular or radial nature have a natural symmetry of their own, as in the detail of the flower below, and will often work best with a centered approach to framing the image.
A centered subject, even when a small part of the overall composition, can still dominate and also create a sense of scale between the subject and the surrounding environment. If you want to convey a sense of isolation or emphasize the insignificance of the subject relative to their environment, a central position within the frame will often express this idea well.
A centered position within the frame creates a sense of balance owing to the symmetry of the composition. When lines are present that share that symmetry, a centered framing choice becomes even more compelling
Although I prefer to think of it as the “Guideline of Thirds”, rules like the “Rule of Thirds”, have become rules because they generally result in stronger compositions. But in Art, as in life, rules are sometimes best ignored. Think about employing the power of a centered composition when next you want to emphasize your subject’s symmetry, dominance or isolation.
-BPSOP Instructor – Mark English