5 Key Rules to Follow when Composing a Photo

Knowing how to compose a photo helps make the most of a good subject with great lighting. With practice, it’s a skill that you build over time but there are still a couple of tips that can help you get there a little faster.

5 Key Rules to Follow When Composing a Photograph. Landscape and Travel Fine Art Photography — Ramon Fritz

Knowing how to compose a photo helps make the most of a good subject with great lighting. With practice, it’s a skill that you build over time but there are still a couple of tips that can help you get there a little faster. Don’t get too caught up in composition techniques, or all that planning will take the fun out of your photo sessions. Once you learn these rules, feel free to break them and be creative. These are not set in stone and what’s important is that it works for you. If you’re happy with your image ultimately, that’s what’s important.

Use a Leading Line

Leading lines help direct the gaze of viewers to the key focal point in your image. In most photos, they are so subtle that viewers are sometimes not even aware of them. Lines are everywhere in nature and in cities — they come in the form of roads, trees, fences, walls, buildings. Use them whenever possible by directing them to the subject of your photo. Try and break the monotony of perpendicular with diagonal lines when possible but sometimes perpendicular lines complement a very strong image. This something that you will develop with time and appreciate what works for you.

Fill the Frame with Your Subject

Filling the frame does away with clutter and distractions, bringing your subject into focus. It’s a simple composition technique you can use for portraits, animal photography and any other type of images that feature a subject or group of subjects. Equally see below for 'Give Your Subject Space'. 

Is Putting Your Subject in the Middle of the Shot a Good Idea?

You may know the rule of thirds but if not, this is effectively mentally composing your image into thirds whether vertically or horizontally depending on the subject. A subject in the middle of your photo often appears as any snapshot would making your photo appear not particularly appealing. Offsetting the subject isn’t enough so take into account other elements in your composition, in particular leading lines, secondary objects and textures. Combine these in a way that gives your photo the biggest impact. 

To learn more about the rule of thirds, see this post by Photograph Talk

Give Your Subject Space

When you give your subject space to breathe, your image can appear more dynamic. This rule is especially useful when you photograph a subject in motion, whether it’s a dog running after a ball, a car speeding down the road or a person on a bicycle. Make sure your subject has enough space in front so that the photo won’t look as if it has been cut out. Give it room and you can always crop it in editing. 

Balance the Weight of Your Subject

When following the rule of thirds or giving your subject space, try not to leave a void in one area of the image, unless of course it’s a conscious choice. Voids create an unpleasant sense of emptiness that can make your photo seem incomplete but can also add a dynamic for example salt flats and desert scapes. Try and fill that void with a secondary object, a person, a rock, a bird fro example. It may seem obvious sometimes just zooming out might be the solution. In these cases, choosing the right lens from the start makes life a little easier. Experiment with these rules and break them when you can. That’s the beauty of digital photography and processing but not what you want to rely on ultimately. Brilliant examples of use of space and thirds are minimalist images — see one of my favourite artistic photographer feeds for Jay Vulture


Below is a fantastic video on composition with Huntington Witherill — a master in my opinion.

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