Learn The Rules of Photo Composition

Learning the rules of photo composition can improve the results of any photographer. The difference between a good shot of your favourite view or subject and a truly awesome one is simply down to how you compose the shot and the elements within it. A tree here, a lake there, it all adds up to elevate a photo to a piece of photographic art.

Basics of Photo Composition

The first and most important thing to remember is to take your time. Look at the scene in the viewfinder or on your monitor and try to see it not as simply a view but instead to imagine it as a finished print hanging on your wall.

Ask yourself whether there’s any way that it can be improved by maybe zooming in a little, by moving the camera, changing the orientation or just making sure it is level. A tripod is a very useful tool for this, since it lets you view a completely static image without the need to hold the camera steady.

There is a certain balance to a photo that is achieved by following some simple rules that will help you take better pictures. Like all things, it comes down to practice but here is an introduction to some of the most useful rules that can lift your photos instantly.

Object Movement

A moving object such as a boat, car or runner should look as if it is entering the frame, not leaving it. An object moving left to right should be placed more on the left side of the shot so they have space to move out of the frame. If not, it can make the shot ‘feel’ wrong.

The Rule Of Thirds

The classic rule. Divide the frame equally with two vertical and two horizontal lines. Place your subject on any of the points where the lines intersect and you will create a more appealing composition than just placing it dead centre.

Leading Lines

These are simple visual elements that can lead the viewer’s eye through a photograph and point at the main subject of your shot. Things such as roads, railway lines or converging architectural elements can also create a sense of depth or indicate movement.

Horizon Lines

One of the easiest things you can do to immediately improve your photos is to make sure that your horizons are level. Even the slightest tilt of the horizon or any strong horizontal line from level can just look wrong.


Using elements in a scene to frame your subject can help you isolate them and make them the obvious point of interest in your photo. Placing elements around the edge of your composition creates a frame within the frame of the photo itself. They can be in sharp focus or blurred.

Foreground Interest

This is a particular tip favoured by landscape photographers but works well for many compositions. By putting an element in the foreground of your shot, it creates a point of interest and becomes the visual starting point for your viewers journey through the shot.

Repeat Patterns

Humans are good at pattern recognition and any shot with interesting patterns are immediately visually appealing to the viewer. Having repetition of elements can have the same effect as well. Add textures to the mix and you have an amazing shot on your hands.


Simplification is pretty easy to grasp as a concept. Fill your composition with your subject and suddenly you can concentrate on more subtle, smaller aspects of your subject. It can be as simple as the expression on your subject’s face or the detail of an animal’s skin or fur.

Depth of Field

If you want to draw your viewer’s eye to a particular aspect of your composition, then the use of depth of field is one of the easiest. A large aperture on your lens creates very shallow depth of field. The background melts away into soft focus whilst your subject remains sharp.

Complimentary Colour

The use of colour can bring a sense of mood to your photos and make them visually exciting. Two complimentary colours can create huge contrast and make the photo ‘pop’. Photos where the colour temperature has been boosted towards orange can help enhance a sunset and make it feel even warmer.

Visual Flow

This is similar to leading lines. Most scenes have a flow that runs vertically or horizontally and it is useful for you to be aware of the flow in your shot. Composing a shot where the flow runs out of the frame and doesn’t lead to something interesting can ruin the shot.

Strike a Balance

This is an interesting addition to the rule of thirds mentioned before. Placing your subject off-centre can be visually pleasing but do watch out for the remainder of the shot looking empty. You can balance the shot with another object in the space created that is smaller and out of focus.

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Mark Frost

Mark started work as a commercial artist during the good old days of Letraset, spray mount and having to process your photos at a local chemist. Having discovered his passion for photography, Photoshop and the wonders of digital image manipulation, he has not looked back. He is well on his way to owning more cameras than he’s had hot dinners.

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