8 Practical Tips to Improve Composition in Realism
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Balance elements within the frame
  2. How to use the rule of thirds effectively
  3. Why lines matter in composition?
  4. Framing the subject
  5. How to use colors to enhance composition?
  6. Use light and shadow to create depth
  7. Why negative space is important?
  8. Creating focus with selective detailing

Have you ever looked at a piece of realistic art and wondered, "how did they do that?" If so, you're not alone. Perfecting the composition in realism can feel like a lofty goal, but with the right tips and tricks, you can improve your skills and create stunning, life-like works of art. Whether you're a seasoned artist or just starting out, these eight practical tips will help you understand how to improve composition in realism, bringing balance, depth, and focus to your artwork.

Balance Elements Within the Frame

First things first, balancing elements within the frame is like arranging furniture in a room. You want everything to fit nicely, without feeling too cluttered or too sparse. This balance is key in creating a realistic composition that draws the viewer's eye.

When you start to sketch out your composition, consider the weight of each element. Objects don't have to be the same size to balance each other out — a larger object can be balanced by a smaller one if the smaller one has more detail or a more striking color. In other words, size isn’t everything!

Let's say you're painting a still life of an apple and a bunch of grapes. The apple is bigger, but the grapes, with their multiple, shiny surfaces and varied shades of purple and green, can hold their own. Now, imagine you place the apple on the left side of the canvas and the grapes on the right. By doing this, you've created an exciting visual balance that will draw viewers in.

Remember: balancing your elements is like putting together a puzzle. Each piece should have its own place and purpose. It may take some trial and error, but the end result will be a realistic composition that feels right to you and appealing to others.

So, the next time you're questioning how to improve composition in realism, start by asking yourself: is everything in balance?

How to Use the Rule of Thirds Effectively

Next up in our guide on how to improve composition in realism is the rule of thirds. You've probably heard of it before, but just in case, here's a quick refresher: imagine your canvas is divided into nine equal squares — like a tic-tac-toe board. The rule of thirds suggests that your main subject or focal point should be placed along these lines or at their intersections.

Why does this matter? Well, placing your subject at the center of the frame can sometimes make the composition feel static or boring. But placing it off-center, according to the rule of thirds, can create a sense of movement and interest. It's a simple tip, but it can make a big difference in your artwork.

Think about a landscape painting, for example. If you place the horizon line right in the middle of the canvas, the viewer's eye might get stuck there. But if you place it along one of the horizontal lines, the viewer's eye will naturally move up or down, exploring the rest of the painting. The result? A more dynamic and engaging composition.

Pro tip: Don't be afraid to break the rule of thirds if it doesn't fit your vision. It's a helpful guideline, but not a strict rule. After all, you're the artist — you get to call the shots.

So, the second step in improving your composition in realism? Remember the rule of thirds and use it to your advantage.

Why Lines Matter in Composition?

Let's move on to the third tip for improving your composition in realism. Have you ever wondered why lines matter so much in composition? Believe it or not, lines are one of the most powerful tools you can use to guide a viewer's eyes through your artwork.

Firstly, let's talk about horizontal lines. These lines tend to give a sense of peace, tranquility, and stability. Imagine a calm seascape or a serene sunset; the horizontal lines of the horizon and the setting sun create a soothing effect.

Vertical lines, on the other hand, often convey strength and stability. Think about a towering skyscraper or a tall, majestic tree — the vertical lines draw the viewer's eye upward, creating a sense of height and grandeur.

Then there are diagonal lines. These lines create dynamism and movement. Whether it's a steep mountain slope or a speeding train, diagonal lines give the impression of action and energy.

Lastly, curved lines can convey a feeling of softness and elegance. From the gentle curve of a river to the smooth contour of a petal, curved lines add grace and beauty to a composition.

Remember: Lines don't have to be literal. They can be implied through the arrangement of elements or the direction of light and shadow. The key is to use them thoughtfully to guide the viewer's eye and create a balanced, harmonious composition.

So, why do lines matter in composition? Because they help shape the viewer's experience and guide their gaze. Understanding and harnessing the power of lines is a great step towards improving your composition in realism.

Framing the Subject

Let's now turn our attention to another key aspect of composition in realism—framing the subject. Framing is all about how you position your main subject within the boundaries of your artwork. It's a simple concept, but it can make a world of difference in how your art communicates its message.

One common method is central framing, where the subject is placed right in the middle of the frame. This can give your subject a lot of importance, like they're the star of the show. But remember, central framing can sometimes feel a bit predictable, so use it wisely!

Off-center framing is another option. By placing the subject off to one side, you can create a more dynamic and interesting composition. This technique often works well when you want to show some context or background along with your subject.

Here's a handy tip: try using lines or shapes in your artwork to frame your subject. This can help draw the viewer's attention directly to the subject. For example, you might use the branches of a tree to frame a bird, or the arch of a bridge to frame a passing boat.

Remember: Framing is not just about where you place your subject. It's also about what you include (or leave out) of the frame. By carefully selecting what to include in your frame, you can guide the viewer's focus and control the narrative of your artwork.

In essence, framing your subject effectively is like telling a story. So next time you're wondering how to improve composition in realism, think about how you can use framing to make your subject shine.

How to Use Colors to Enhance Composition?

Now, let's talk color. Many of us love using color in our artwork, but have you ever considered how color can actually enhance the composition of your realism art? Let's dive right in.

First off, color can create a sense of balance. If you have a bright red apple in one corner of your painting, for example, you might balance it with some red flowers in the opposite corner. This can provide a sense of visual equilibrium, making your artwork more pleasing to the eye.

Color can also guide the viewer's eye. Bright, bold colors tend to draw the eye, so you can use them to highlight your main subject. On the other hand, softer, muted colors can create a sense of depth and distance.

Let's not forget about color harmony. This is when the colors in your artwork work well together, creating a sense of unity and cohesion. There are many ways to achieve color harmony, like using complementary colors (colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel) or analogous colors (colors that are next to each other on the color wheel).

And finally, remember that color can evoke emotion. The colors you choose can set the mood of your artwork, whether it's the warm, sunny yellows of a summer day, or the cold, bleak grays of a winter landscape.

Keep in mind: Understanding color and how to use it effectively can be a powerful tool in your quest to improve composition in realism. So go ahead, start experimenting with color in your next piece of art!

Use Light and Shadow to Create Depth

Next on our list is the magic of light and shadow. You might be wondering: can light and shadow truly make a difference in the composition of realism art? The answer is a resounding yes!

Imagine you're drawing a simple bowl of fruit. Without shadows, your fruit might look flat and lifeless. But add some shadows, and suddenly your fruit has volume and depth—it feels like you could reach out and grab it!

The secret is in understanding how light works. When light hits an object, it creates a highlight—the lightest part of the object. The part of the object that's turned away from the light is the shadow—the darkest part. And between the highlight and the shadow, there's the mid-tone, which is the true color of the object.

Now, here's something cool to try: not only can you use light and shadow to give depth to individual objects, but you can also use them to create a sense of depth in your entire scene. For example, objects that are closer to the viewer can have stronger, more contrasted light and shadow, while objects that are further away can have softer, less contrasted light and shadow. This can give the illusion of distance and add a whole new level of realism to your artwork.

Pro tip: Experiment with different light sources. The direction, color, and intensity of the light can create different moods and effects, adding another layer of complexity to your composition. Remember, improving composition in realism isn't just about arranging objects—it's also about portraying them in a compelling, realistic way.

Why Negative Space is Important?

Let's move on to another interesting concept: negative space. Now, don't be fooled by its name. Negative space isn't a bad thing—in fact, it's quite important when it comes to improving composition in realism.

Think of negative space as the "quiet" areas in your artwork—the parts of the canvas that aren't filled with objects, figures, or details. These areas might seem empty, but they actually play a big role in how your composition is perceived. They help guide the viewer's eye, highlight the main subject, and create balance in your artwork.

Imagine a portrait where the subject is surrounded by a lot of cluttered details. It might be hard for the viewer to focus on the subject, right? But if you leave some negative space around the subject, it creates a sort of "breathing room" that makes the subject stand out more.

Another way to think about negative space is like the pauses in a conversation. Without pauses, words become a jumble, and it's hard to make sense of what's being said. But with the right pauses, everything becomes clearer and more meaningful. It's the same with your artwork—negative space helps bring clarity and focus to your composition.

Pro tip: Don't just think of negative space as "empty" space. Try to see it as a shape or form that contributes to the overall composition. When you start seeing negative space this way, you'll discover a whole new world of creative possibilities.

Creating Focus with Selective Detailing

Alright, let's dive into another practical tip on how to improve composition in realism: selective detailing. This technique can be a game-changer in your quest to create effective and compelling compositions.

So, what's selective detailing all about? It's essentially about being intentional with where you put the most detail in your artwork. It's like being a tour guide for your viewer's eyes, leading them to the areas you want them to focus on.

Here's a simple way to understand it: Let's say you're drawing a landscape with a tree in the foreground. If you put a lot of detail into the tree—like individual leaves and textures of the bark—and leave the background less detailed, the viewer's attention will naturally be drawn to the tree. That's selective detailing in action!

But, remember, selective detailing doesn't mean ignoring the rest of the composition. It's about creating a balance between detailed areas and less detailed ones. This balance helps guide the viewer's eye through the artwork, creating a more engaging and satisfying viewing experience.

Pro tip: Practice selective detailing by starting with a rough sketch of your composition. Then, decide on the focal points and begin adding detail to these areas. As you work, step back occasionally to see how the overall composition is shaping up. This will help you maintain a good balance and make sure the focus is where you want it to be.

If you're looking to further improve your composition skills in realism, we highly recommend Austin James Jackson's workshop, 'Tips To Compose More Compelling Photos.' This workshop will help you refine your composition techniques and create more visually compelling pieces, whether in photography or other forms of realism art.