Photo Composition for Better Photography
Notes from the Web

Gestalt Laws of Grouping


Gestalt theory embraces a number of grouping principles as "laws" of perceptual organization. We need to be aware of these principles as we photograph. 



Objects or shapes that are near one another appear to form groups. Even if the shapes, sizes, and objects are radically different, they will appear as a group if they are close together.

The closer the objects, the stronger the gestalt. In rank, from weakest to strongest:

  • Close
  • Touching
  • Overlapping
  • Combined



Elements of the visual field that appear to be similar in some way are grouped together. We group elements based on similarity in

  • Size
  • Shape
  • Angle
  • Value
  • Color
  • Texture
  • etc.



We have a preference for smooth continuity of lines over discrete, irregular, abrupt changes. Thus the eye will continue on a smooth path, even beyond its ending point to find an adjoining object.

Stated another way, once set in motion, the eye will continue in that direction until something significant is found. Thus our eyes have a tendency to follow the lines of a photo until interrupted.



The mind seeks to complete an object when pieces of the object are missing or obscured. We concentrate on "closing" objects or shapes that are incomplete, especially those objects that are familiar to us. With unfamiliar objects, the mind must work hard to fill in the gaps.

Incomplete shapes are generally more interesting than completed ones, since they require our participation to finalize.


Common Fate

We group together objects moving in the same direction. Two people walking toward the left will be seen a unit.



Given multiple interpretations of the same data, we prefer the simplest and most stable configurations. Often we base our choices on symmetry, regularity, and smoothness.


Other equally debatable grouping principles

  • Alignment - edge or center alignment of objects creates a line for the eyes to follow.
  • Smallness - we tend to emphasize small figures seen against a large background.
  • Symmetry - we tend to see symmetrical areas against asymmetrical backgrounds.
  • Surroundedness - areas which can be seen as surrounded by other areas tend to be perceived as figures
  • Repetition , rhythm and pattern - grouping similar forms in an effort to satisfy the user's perceptual need for a sense of order and wholeness.
  • Major axes - We recognize instinctively the vertical, horizontal, and other major axes.