Photo by Gil Ribeiro

Photography composition guides for beginners are simple and usually starts off with the rule of thirds. But did you know that there are other composition guides that could make or break your photograph?

Before going ahead and discussing the rules of composition, you must first understand why studying them is needed.

Having a good grasp of these rules or guidelines make it easier to compose an image. It is applicable on any situation or any photography genre. This in turn gives you an advantage as a versatile shooter.

With that being said, let’s get started.

Rule of Thirds

This is the most basic and the most commonly used composition guide because it is easy to understand. The guides are even built-in on some cameras as an overlay. 

The rule of thirds is a frame divided into nine equal parts. The subject is then placed on the intersections on the grid. By placing the subject there, the photograph gets more dynamic and interesting.

So why put the subject on the intersections?

By placing a subject on these lines, the frame gets filled with the context or added story to your photograph.

The rule of thirds can be considered as a composition fundamental as it can be used as the foundation for other guidelines too.

Rule of Thirds - Shawn Ang | Unsplash

Framing

Framing does not mean that you would print your photo and hang it in your living room. Compositional framing means using natural elements to frame or emphasize your subject. This technique is used to draw your viewer to the subject naturally.

There are thousands of possible frames available everywhere - literally. It could be a doorframe, a window, or even arches.

But that does not mean that you are limited to these objects.

You may also use two pillars or posts to frame your subject. If you are creative enough, even a toilet paper roll would do. The possibilities are endless.

Framing by Dominik Van Opdenbosch

Leading Lines

Another compositional guideline that you should know is leading lines. So what are these lines and where does it lead you?

The eyes are naturally drawn to lines, patterns, and shapes and that is where the leading lines come in. 

Leading lines are used to guide the eyes towards the subject. More often than not, a subject is placed at the endpoint of a line.

As viewers take a look at a photograph, their eyes are guided by the lines until it reaches the subject.

What are the common natural leading lines available?

Electricity wires, streets, fences, bridges, pedestrian lanes, and street markers are some of the commonly used leading lines.

There is another one - railroads. However, refrain from doing so as this is dangerous and there have been countless reports of railroad accidents due to photography already. Do not add yourself to that statistics.

Leading Lines by Ben Allan

Rule of Odds

This photography composition guide applies on any photography genre. If there is an even number of elements on a photograph, the eye usually wanders from one element to another.

Sometimes this tires out the eyes faster as there is no rest between the elements due to the even number. 

If you are going by the rule of odds, adding another element to make it an odd number creates a resting place for the eyes. It also creates some kind of a connecting element that somehow makes the image more cohesive.

Rule of Odds by Ankush Minda

Scale

This rule is easier to understand. As the name implies, it uses natural elements in your photograph to show the size of an object.

For example, if you want to display how large a building is, you would include objects surrounding it such as people, cars, or even trees.

Another example is if you want to show a jewelry, you would put it on the hand or finger of a person to show how huge or small the jewelry is.

Scale by  Jukan Tateisi

Depth

A photograph is divided into three parts - the foreground, mid-ground and the background. The foreground is the element closest to the viewer while the background, of course, is the one further away. Guess where the mid-ground is? Well, it’s in the middle.

That being said, a photograph could be shown as a layer of elements. Doing so provides the viewer a more immersive viewing experience.

For instance, if you are shooting a seascape and there is no foreground available, the image might look to plain. But place a foreground such as rocks, shells, or a sand formation and it will look more interesting.

It does not mean that you are stuck with natural elements. You may even use a person as a foreground element. Have a person walk in the foreground. A silhouette will also work.

Playing with depth is all about being creative. Try different angles and explore different foreground, mid-ground and background combinations.

 Photo by Ferran Feixas

Repeating Patterns

Leading lines is a form of repeating pattern, yet it is not limited to that. Patterns appear in a lot of forms such as lines, colors, textures, and many more.

By using repeating patterns, the viewer is guided to the subject. It highlights the subject by making it stand out by breaking the pattern.

Patterns are available anywhere. In photography, searching for patterns is also a good exercise. Why? Because it trains your eye to focus on your environment and search for things that are hidden - waiting to be discovered.

Photo by Steve Harvey

Fill the Frame

Sometimes getting up close and personal yields better photographs. Trying to capture a scene with too many elements might be distracting. In the end, the result will be a total mess with a confusing composition.

By filling up the frame, you get to isolate your subject and let the viewer focus on it. This also applies on times where you want to highlight details of your subject. Perhaps, you want to focus on the eyes.

Photo by Steve Harvey

Play with Perspective

Photography reflects the photographers viewpoint or perspective. The output depends on how the photographer sees the subject. Capitalizing on your own perspective makes great photographs. 

Why? Because your image will reflect your viewpoint on a certain subject.

Let’s say you are a short guy looking at a busy junction. Your perspective is different from an NBA player who is towering in height and if he views your photograph, you are introducing him to a view that is not normal for him - a view that is far from what he regularly sees.

Play with perspective. You can go high, you can go low. Find what is interesting enough to make your photograph pop.

Remember, the eye is attracted to something that is not normal so if you take a photo from a unique perspective, the viewer’s eye will be drawn to it.

Charles Etoroma

Golden Triangles

The Golden Triangle is somehow similar to the Rule of Thirds but instead of dividing the frame into 9 equal parts, you will be dividing the frame into diagonals to form a triangle.

By dividing the frame into triangles, the image becomes more dynamic and interesting. 

But why does it become more dynamic?

It is because we view our world regularly vertically and horizontally. There are no diagonal buildings right?

By introducing diagonal lines or triangles, the scene becomes unfamiliar. It is the same reason why a different perspective tickle our visuals. Our eyes are looking at something that they are not used to.

Triangles by Ronan Furuta

Negative Space

The negative space is like the opposite of filling the frame. This composition technique is usually done to convey a calm and soothing image.

This does not mean that you can just isolate a subject and call it negative space. No, you still need to think of where to place the subject. 

Ask yourself, should you include more foreground? Are you going to include more negative background? Or should you put your subject right in the middle?

Negative space by Cate Bligh

Nose and Headroom

This is a film making technique that is also usable in taking photographs. Leave breathing room when taking a photo of your subject.

What does breathing room mean? It means, you let your image feel open and not claustrophobic at all.

For example, you are taking a photo of a person talking - similar to a headshot interview. You would not cut the frame on the subjects forehead. Instead, you have to give space above the head.

If your subject is facing sideways, do not compose your image that the subject is touching the edge of the frame. It is unflattering and would make the image feel enclosed.

Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău

Balance Elements

When rule of thirds is introduced, beginner photographers would usually place a subject on one of the grids and call it a day. Sometimes doing so works wonders but there are times where the image feels unbalanced as well.

By balancing elements, you distribute the visual weight on your image.

For instance, you place a subject on the lower right grid. To balance that image, you would put another visual element on the upper left grid. 

However, the “balance element” should be of lesser importance so that it would not take away the spotlight from the subject.

Photo by Jess Bailey

Feel free to break the rules

Photography composition guidelines are there to serve as, you guessed it right, guidelines. They are not strict rules that you should adhere to.

These guidelines are there to help you create a better looking image. However, once you get past the learning stage, you will start to think of ways to get better or to make your images more unique. 

This is where you break the rules. Your images will be a free for all of your ideas, of your perspective.

You can either mix and match these guidelines or not follow them totally. It is all about your creative freedom.

That’s it for our photography composition guide. Don’t forget to share your output on our social media accounts @promediagear. 

May 30, 2022

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