Rules to Follow when Composing a Photo

Rules to Follow when Composing a Photo

You can have the most stunning subject to photograph in the most gorgeous lighting, but if you don’t take care to compose the shot well, no amount of good light and inherent beauty will prevent the image from being a dud. There are plenty of photography composition tips to help you create a better photo. That’s the good news. The bad news – if you can call it that – is that it just takes a bit of practice to become adept at using a compositional technique.

What’s more, it can get a bit overwhelming trying to decide which compositional techniques to learn, let alone which ones to implement. Again, a little bit of practicing a handful of compositional techniques will help you determine what you like to do to give your photos a boost. Let’s take a look at 10 compositional rules that will help you create a more impactful photo.

Shoot Both Vertical and Horizontal

When I first started in photography, I noticed something about my photos when I reviewed them…

Virtually all my landscape photos were in horizontal format and virtually all of my portraits were in vertical format. There’s nothing wrong with that approach; it’s just expected. In photography, you want to give viewers something unexpected!

When I started forcing myself to change the aspect ratio I used to take photos, I noticed that it required me to think harder about the shot. For example, when photographing a landscape in vertical format I had to take the foreground and background into more account, given that in vertical format both areas have more real estate in the frame. What I found to be most helpful is to take both a horizontal and a vertical shot of the same subject, and then compare how they look and feel afterward. It really helped me to develop my eye for framing and composition and it will do the same for you.

Use Leading Lines

One of the most powerful compositional tools you can use, especially in landscape photography, is leading lines. Leading lines are great because they help your viewers understand where they need to look in the photo. Rather than their eyes wandering around the shot, a leading line will immediately grab their attention, allowing you to direct them towards the primary subject. There are all sorts of lines you can use in a shot, from a roadway to a simple path to a fence or a wall.

But leading lines don’t have to be so overt. In the image above, the fallen tree on the left side of the shot points directly at the man. That kind of subtle leading line is highly effective, and viewers often won’t even realize that their gaze has been influenced by something so nondescript.

Don’t Get Stuck Using Vertical and Horizontal Lines

When thinking about your leading lines, it’s natural to go right to using vertical and horizontal lines. However, this can be a little predictable, and in the case of horizontal lines, in particular, it can be a little boring too. For something unexpected and dramatic, diagonal lines should be used. In the image above, there’s two sets of diagonal lines – the river and the beams of sunlight. Note how both sets of lines add drama to the shot that wouldn’t be possible if they were simply horizontal or vertical lines.

Instead, the horizontal nature of these lines helps widen and deepen the shot, as well as accentuate the mountain peaks through which they meander.

Keep It Simple

Very rarely in life is “more is better” a good idea. The same applies to photography. Not only does simplifying the scene mean that there are fewer moving parts for you to get right, but it also gives the viewer a break too. Rather than being distracted by a bunch of different elements, a simplified composition allows the viewer to engage more easily with the primary subject. The question is, how do you simplify the scene?

As was done in the image above, select a strong subject – something that stands out in the scene because of its size, shape colour, texture, and so forth. Then frame the subject in a way that ensures viewers can’t miss it. If need be, crop out other elements of the scene. In this case, the woman is obviously the subject, but the colors and textures of the surrounding landscape contribute to a stronger composition but without distracting attention from the woman.

Fill the Frame

An easy way to create a more impactful composition (while keeping it simple as well) is to fill the frame with your subject. Filling the frame gives a photo more impact because it eliminates all the clutter around it that might distract the viewer’s eye. What’s more, filling the frame brings the subject to life, making it look and feel bigger in the shot, like the zebra in the image above.

There are several ways to fill the frame, including zooming in with your lens, getting closer to the subject by changing your shooting position, and cropping the image in post-processing. In any case, filling the frame is a more unique way to compose a shot, and as a result, it will be immediately more interesting to view.