15 Basic Photography Composition Rules: improve your photos!

Before you just step up and take a picture you should consider what you want your viewers to look at and how you should display main points of interest.

There are no fixed rules in photography, but there are guidelines which can often help you to enhance the impact of your photos.

In this tutorial, I’ve listed 15 of these guidelines with examples of each. I’ve started with the most basic ones and finished with some of the more innovating composition techniques.

Before all, I need to define the word “composition”. It refers to the way the various elements in a scene are arranged within a frame. They aren’t rules for this but guidelines as I’ve mentioned already. But we need to remember that they’ve been used in art for thousands of years and they really help us to obtain more attractive results. I always keep in mind some guidelines when I’m shooting as an instinct thinking.

#1. Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is very simple. You divide the frame into 9 equal rectangles, 3 across and 3 down as illustrated below.

I wrote about this basic rule in my previous post. you can follow this link for more deep information:

https://www.migueldasilva.net/blog/rule-of-thirds-start-taking-superb-photographies

#2. Balacing elements

Placing your main subject off-centre, as with the rule of thirds, creates a more interesting photo, but it can leave a void in the scene which can make it feel empty. You can achieve a balanced composition and even out the main subject's "visual weight" by including another object of lesser importance to fill the space.

Copyright Jason Row

Copyright Jason Row

#3. Centred Composition and Symmetry

After the first and second guideline where I’ve told you not to place the main subject in the centre of the frame, I’m going to tell you to do the exact opposite! There are times when placing a subject in the centre of the frame works really well. Symmetrical scenes are perfect for a centred composition.

#4. Fill The Frame / Cropping

Sometimes, leaving too much empty space within a photo can make your main character appear smaller than you’d like. Of course, this can come in handy if you’re trying to capture how small your little one is next to a particular person or thing. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to zoom in close on your subject or “fill the frame.”

#5. Frame Within the Frame

Framing is the tactic of using natural surroundings to add more meaning to your subject.  It could be anything such as bushes, trees, a window, or even a doorway like in the picture at the top of this page.  In the process of doing this you need to be careful that you don’t only focus on what’s framing your subject.  Make sure you focus on the main subject, and also it is a good idea to use a narrow aperture (high f/stop) to achieve a high depth-of-field.  It also wouldn’t hurt if the part of the picture framing the subject was darker so make sure you take your light reading on the main subject.

#6.  Leading Lines

Leading lines help lead the viewer through the image and focus attention on important elements.

When we look at a photo our eye is naturally drawn along lines. By thinking about how you place these leading lines in your composition, you can affect the way we view the image, pulling us into the picture, towards the subject, or on a journey "through" the scene.

There are many different types of line - straight, diagonal, curvy, zigzag, radial etc - and each can be used to enhance our photo's composition. Anything from paths, walls or patterns can be used as leading lines.

Take a look at the examples below.

#7. Simplicity

Simplicity is the method of keeping the information in a photograph relatively simple.  If your main subject is close, then your background should be very simple to avoid distractions.  You should try to keep everything not important much less interesting than what’s important in the frame.  Especially avoid lines or objects that lead the eye away from the subject.

#8. Change your Point of View

Before photographing your subject, take time to think about where you will shoot it from. Our viewpoint has a massive impact on the composition of our photo, and as a result it can greatly affect the message that the shot conveys. Rather than just shooting from eye level, consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, from a long way away, from very close up, and so on.

#9. DEPTH

Having fore-, middle- and background detail will add depth to your image as well as draw the eye through the picture. Compositional elements that compliment each other, for example with colour or by association, work well but do be careful with the size of objects you use and how you place them as you don't want the shot to be thrown off balance. You don't want a rock in the foreground of your landscape shot, for example, drawing the eye away from the hills and mountains in the background. Adding water to the foreground can also lighten your shot as well as adding an extra element of interest as it reflects the sky back out.

#10. Colors Combination

Choosing colors and color combinations for photography requires planning if not effort. Use of color in photography is an Art as old as photography itself but most of us don’t realize the importance of co-ordination and planning. In this guide, we will consider some tips to get the best color combinations when posing for photos. But first: we will consider the best color combinations for decorative landscape photos especially from the point of view of wall art and interior design.

As you can see in the portrait below, the green color of the dress meets perfectly with the tulips by intermediate colors.

#11. Foreground Interest and Depth

Including some foreground interest in a scene is a great way of adding a sense of depth to the scene. Photographs are 2D by nature. Including foreground interest in the frame is one of a number of techniques to give the scene a more 3D feel.

#12. BACKGROUND

How many times have you taken what you thought would be a great shot, only to find that the final image lacks impact because the subject blends into a busy background? The human eye is excellent at distinguishing between different elements in a scene, whereas a camera has a tendency to flatten the foreground and background, and this can often ruin an otherwise great photo. Thankfully this problem is usually easy to overcome at the time of shooting - look around for a plain and unobtrusive background and compose your shot so that it doesn't distract or detract from the subject.

#13. Patterns, Textures and symmetry

Texture can add a significant amount of interest in any picture.  When people see texture in pictures they start imagining what it feels like to touch what’s in the picture.  Texture is a good idea when your taking pictures of rocks, walls, surfaces, someone’s hands, or leaves.  In order to make a picture reveal a texture you must make sure the light is coming almost exactly from the side of the surface so it creates shadows in places key places.

Human beings are naturally attracted to patterns. They are visually attractive and suggest harmony. Patterns can be man made like a series of arches or natural like the petals on a flower. Incorporating patterns into your photographs is always a good way to create a pleasing composition. Less regular textures can also be very pleasing on the eye.

We are surrounded by symmetry and patterns, both natural and man-made. They can make for very eye-catching compositions, particularly in situations where they are not expected. Another great way to use them is to break the symmetry or pattern in some way, introducing tension and a focal point to the scene.

#14. Diagonals and Triangles

It is often said that triangles and diagonals add ‘dynamic tension’ to a photo. What do we mean by ‘dynamic tension’ though? Look at it this way, horizontal lines and vertical lines suggest stability. If you see a person standing on a level horizontal surface, he will appear to be pretty stable. Put this man on a sloping surface and he’ll seem less stable. This creates a certain level of tension visually. We are not so used to diagonals in our every day life. They subconsciously suggest instability. Incorporating triangles and diagonals into our photos can help create this sense of ‘dynamic tension’.

Incorporating triangles into a scene is a particularly good effective way of introducing dynamic tension. Triangles can be actual triangle-shaped objects or implied triangles.

#15. EXPERIMENTATION

It exists so many different composition guidelines or rules in art and photography that it only depends on you to search, follow them or simply try and experiment by yourself.

With the dawn of the digital age in photography we no longer have to worry about film processing costs or running out of shots. As a result, experimenting with our photos' composition has become a real possibility; we can fire off tons of shots and delete the unwanted ones later at absolutely no extra cost. Take advantage of this fact and experiment with your composition - you never know whether an idea will work until you try it.

Rule of Thirds: start taking superb photographies

Rule of Thirds: Composition Photography

The rule of thirds is an essential photography technique. It can be applied to any subject to improve the composition and balance your images.

This technique is a basic rule for artists, not only for photographers. This Rule of Thirds is perhaps the most well-known ‘rule’ of photographic composition.

It's an important concept to learn as it can be used in all types of photography to produce images which are more engaging and better balanced. If you take an introduction to photography class, more than likely, one of the very first things you will learn is the “Rule of Thirds”. Even if you haven’t taken a photography class, you have still probably heard this term.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The rule of thirds involves mentally dividing up your image using 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines, as shown below. You then position the important elements in your scene along those lines, or at the points where they meet.

Rule of thirds

Rule of thirds

As you’re taking an image you would have done this in your mind through your viewfinder or in the LCD display that you use to frame your shot.

With this grid in mind the ‘rule of thirds’ now identifies four important parts of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image.

Not only this – but it also gives you four ‘lines’ that are also useful positions for elements in your photo.

When taking your photo, you will want to ask yourself:

  • What are the most important elements of my photo?

  • Where should I should I place them within my photo?

Realize that your subject doesn't have to be exactly on the hot-spot, just near to it. You may have to movearound when shooting to make this happen and get best composition.

The Rule of Thirds states that a photograph has the greatest impact and ability to capture a viewer’s attention when your image subject and important foreground and background elements are placed in the composition near the junction of these lines. Horizons are best placed along one of the two horizontal lines, rather than in the center of a photo. Vertically oriented subjects, like people standing, are best placed along one of the vertical lines, with the person’s back closest to the edge of the photo, leaving room ahead of them in the direction they’re facing.

Rule of Thirds in Landscape Photography

New landscape photographers often mistakenly place the horizon right in the middle of the photo.  This tends to give the feeling of the image being split in two - which is not generally pleasing to the eye.

Knowing the rule of thirds is very helpful here, as placing the horizon on one of the horizontal lines will naturally balance the image and allow you to highlight the area of the photo that you want.

For example, you should place the horizon on the bottom line if you’re trying to highlight a beautiful sky or sunset. Alternatively, if want the focus to be on the land, you would place the horizon on the top line.

Rule of Thirds and Directional Movement

When you’re photographing a moving subject pay particular attention to the direction they are traveling.  You will want to place them near the hot spot or line on the opposite side from where they are going.

For example, if your subject is a jogger who is running from right to left, make sure place them on the right vertical line or hotspot.  This will give the appearance your subject moving forward and also show where they are headed.

Rule of Thirds and Where Your Subject is Looking

If your subject is looking in a particular direction, make sure to place them on the opposite side from were they are looking. This will leave empty space ahead of them and prevent the appearance that they are looking off into nothingness.

For example, if your subject is looking to the left, place them on the right vertical line.  This will provide more natural balance and allow the viewer to understand what they are looking at.

If you find that there are no determining factors on which side is better for placement, choose the right.  Because we read from left to right, our eyes will naturally focus more strongly on the right side.

BREAKING THE RULE

The Rule of Thirds is not an infallible law, but it is a good point of reference to keep in mind, just as artists have done for hundreds of years. Excellent photos can certainly be taken with your subject or horizon centered in the middle of the frame, but generally you’ll find that the Rule of Thirds really does improve the composition and balance of a photograph.

However, learn to use the rule of thirds effectively before you try to break it - that way you can be sure you're doing so in order to get a better composition, rather than just for the sake of it.

A few examples of when breaking the rule of thirds can make for a better photograph include:

  1. Highlighting the symmetry of a subject or location by centering the photo.

  2. Making a subject appear larger and more intimidating by placing them in the center of the photo.

  3. If you want to draw the eyes inward - perhaps a photo of a narrow pathway that you want your viewer to focus on.

  4. The subject is nicely framed and centering makes for a stronger photo.


EXTRA TIP

You can easily apply the rule of thirds to existing photos by cropping them. This allows you to reposition the important subjects in your image, moving them into more pleasing positions.

If you don’t get your perfect positioning in camera (and who does), you can use Lightroom and Photoshop, they includw a rule of thirds overlay to help guide you.