All artists begin a new piece of work with the same empty frame, whether it’s a sketch pad, a painter’s canvas or a camera viewfinder. Composition is how we go about filling that empty frame and compositional formats are a cheat sheet to some of the commonly successful ways of organizing the visual elements that we apply to the empty frame with pencil, paint or by pointing our camera.

On a vision quest to see with heightened awareness, compositional formats are a road map of where those who went before us traveled. The renaissance masters often used pyramid composition, but the baroque masters used, of course, the baroque diagonal or golden triangles. As on any personal quest though, at some point, we have to stop following the path of others and find our own way, so don’t think of the following compositional formats as rules that can’t be broken. They can and should be broken. Perhaps though, it’s okay to walk a mile in the shoes of the masters before heading out on our own.

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