Composition is just the pleasing, or meaningful, arrangement of elements in a picture. In many cases I think it is a question of balance, the weighting of the elements in the frame, and all it needs is just a moments thought (if you have time) and perhaps a slight shift in your position and you can even move mountains!
“Rules” are worth knowing about but can be dangerous to apply. Edward Weston said that composition is intuitive and that came first, the rules being made up afterwards. He is right, of course, we just get on with framing a shot well and rules are a danger if they dominate your thoughts and get in the way. In fact I find you don’t usually think of the rules until you get to the processing stage and realise that your picture elements fall into the Golden Spiral, the painter’s armature, thirds, whatever.
Rules like the Golden Spiral are an attempt to take an arrangement common in nature and qualify it on the quite reasonable assumption that something so common must have embedded itself into our preception of the world. Other composition rules work in a similar way; Henri Cartier Bresson’s painter’s armature, as I call it, was a structure inprinted on his mind by his training as a painter. It served him well, as we know from Ian’s lectures.
When put on the spot during a Radio Stoke interview and asked how I would photograph an adjacent flower bed (!) I immediately thought of – diagonals! Diagonal lines are strong elements to have in your picture – they seem to draw attention immediately. In our carpentered world verticals and horizontals only seem to strike us if they are NOT quite true.
Another “quick fix” is looking for shapes like a triangle, for eample.
So certainly, if circumstance allow, think about how the elements of the picture are going to fit together in well balanced way and draw attention to the area your pictures message is about. If you do you will be surprised how often your picture has followed the rules – that’s the way it works.