Understanding the Rules of Composition

Turkey, Nature, Landscape, Kaçkars

With the advent of the cell phone and tablet, everyone seems to be taking photographs, and for many people all they want is a record of a holiday or family event or a particular moment in their lives that they are delighted to share with their friends and perhaps to look at some years later as it’ll bring back a fond memory of times past.

So we dispense with our point and shoot camera and stop using our telephones and invest at a reasonably decent camera. Personally, although I had been taking pictures for nearly 50 years, I only took it up as a serious hobby in 2010 when I bought a Panasonic DMC-FZ38 before visiting Kenya on my initial Safari.

To start with, I looked at the 128 page guide, hardly understood a word, so set the camera to car and went off on safari. I took some great photos but it was only after I joined a local camera club and began to learn about the art of makeup which I started to really look through the lens and think about what I was doing, rather than simply pointing the camera at an object and pressing the camera.

All digital camera manufacturers spend lots of time and money on software to help the consumer get the correct camera settings to capture that shot and, as I did originally, if you place your camera on auto, the huge majority of time you will get technically good outcomes. However the one thing that no camera is able to do, no matter how much money you’ve spent buying it, is write a photo that’s appealing to the eye.

Putting it into its very basic form, composition can be said to be the best way to produce a photo that’s aesthetically pleasing to the viewer. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Google”composition in photography” and you come up with these results as:-
20 Composition Strategies That Will Enhance Your Photos:
10 Top Photography Composition Rules
9 Top Photography Composition Rules You Need To Know
18 Composition Rules For Photos That Shine
5 Elements of Composition in Photography
5 Easy Composition Guidelines
The 10 principles of photo composition (and why they work)
12 Rules for Effective Composition in Photography: etc., etc.!

While you will undoubtedly learn by reading all of those articles, (and I would suggest that you do in time), I will focus on a few basic rules that I follow. Before I go further, though some of these are called principles, remember rules are there to be broken. What I am attempting to do is to encourage you to consider what you are trying to achieve when looking through the viewfinder. I will start then with something that you have probably already come across:-

Basically, if you envision a photo divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, the principal subject of the image should be where a vertical line cross a horizontal one.

Many modern cameras allow you to put a grid in the viewfinder that can be used to set the object where two lines intersect. While we are talking about the Rule of Thirds, it is generally best to place the horizon on one of the thirds, as opposed to in the centre of the frame, dependent on whether the main factors of interest are in the skies or on the floor.

Leading Lines

These lead the viewers eyes to the picture to the major subject or on a trip through all of the picture. Examples of leading lines might be a path wandering through the picture, a fence line, a meandering road or a stream or river.


To demonstrate that the principles are no more than guidelines, the following one contradicts the Rule of Thirds. If your image is symmetrical, then it might benefit from being centred either on the horizontal, or vertical centre line. This works particularly well for reflections

Rule of Space

This principle is talking about giving the subject in the photo, space to move in the frame. This especially applies to animals and vehicles. The object should have the most distance in front of it, rather than be right up to the border of frame, giving it nowhere to go.

Rule of Odds

Generally , it’s believed that photos with an odd number of subjects is more visually attractive and natural looking than those with an even number, in which the viewers eyes may flick around the image, unsure of where to settle. I often use the rule of odds particularly if taking a close up of flowers or so on.

I hope I have given you a brief insight into makeup and that when you next look through your viewfinder you’ll at least stop and think for a few seconds at what you are looking at and how the shot may be improved. But just remember, these principles, and all the others you will encounter, are only guide lines to assist you go in the right direction, they’re not railway tracks that you need to adhere to rigidly.

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