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Photography Composition: The 10 Minute Guide

Creative Market March 31, 2021 · 4 min read

Composition is a complicated thing. Entire books could be, and have been, written on it. Today, however, we’re going to break it down in a way that can be read in ten minutes, even if you’re a slow reader. We’ll start with an overview of the simplest rules and try to explain them as efficiently as possible while still communicating why they work.

Ready… Set… Go!

Shoot Only What You’re Shooting


A common mistake amateur photographers make is zooming too far out and trying to show too much. If you want your image to have just one focal point, show only that unless you’re specifically trying to show how that person or thing fits into its surroundings.

Remember that everything in the background is part of the photo, and it will draw the viewer’s eye away from the focal point. Unless that’s what you’re looking for, keep distractions out.

Use the Rule of Thirds. Sometimes.


You probably know the rule: Imagine your image is being divided into nine equal-sized parts by two pairs of horizontal and vertical lines, then place your focal points along those lines.

This is often true, but not always. There are plenty of times, especially when shooting portraits or silhouette shots, when the image will be much stronger if you center the subject. Use your judgment, and try both methods.

Lead the Eye Through the Photo


Lead the viewer’s eye through the image before you lead them out of it. To do this, make sure any strong lines or focal objects in the image either point to or lead through the center. For example, if you’re photographing a road from above, it’s a good idea to have it centered vertically in the frame or leading from one side to the other.

Use Different Angles


Don’t just photograph from eye level or from straight on. Shoot from angles that highlight the subject’s attributes. Low angles make subjects look bigger and more powerful, while high angles do the opposite. Unusual or skewed angles can lend a sense of quirkiness to a subject.

Symmetry and Repetition


Here’s the exception to the Rule of Thirds, or maybe the Rule of Thirds is an exception to this. People like symmetrical things, so if you’re going put the focus on a single object or center it in the frame, try to employ symmetry. You can also intentionally subvert this practice by combining it with an off-center element that stands out.

Repetition works on the same principles, and can be used in the same way. Repeating patterns create a hypnotic effect on the brain, and you can create a powerful effect by contrasting a repeating element with something that “breaks the flow.”

Use Depth to Create Interest Throughout the Scene


One of the interesting things about composition rules is that a lot of them contradict each other. This is the exception to the “shoot only what you’re shooting” rule. If you’re going to photograph a complex scene with no single focal point, it often pays off to put elements in the foreground, background, and middle distance in order to provide visual interest in all parts of the photo. Just make sure they all look purposeful.

Conclusion

These are just eight rules out of many possible ones, and we urge you to study more if you are serious about developing the hobby. Remember that these rules don’t all have to be applied at once. In fact, feel free to break them where you think it’ll make a particular photo more interesting.

Always keep them in mind while you’re shooting, and you’ll see your work improve.

Phew. What’s my time?


Header image created using Photographer with Film Camera, Eveleth – Premium Letterpress Fonts, and Goodfy.
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9 Comments
  • Anonymous
    Nice tips! Thanks for the share. 7 years ago
  • Anonymous
    That's what i need :) Thanks for sharing this quick tips! 7 years ago
  • BeArt-Presets
    Very nice tips, Thanks! 7 years ago
  • FilterGrade
    Fantastic tips for photographers! My favorite photographs often involve some depth and leading lines in them. 7 years ago
  • Thanks for this, Always good to hear more knowledge. Life long learning! 7 years ago
  • Anonymous
    Great tips here. I love the exception-to-the-rule rules. 7 years ago
  • Thank you for tips. 7 years ago
  • Good tips. Taking your time when you photograph helps you consider composition more. 7 years ago
  • These are really great tips, and I would love to see one of these quick and easy 10 minutes, ok, 4 minute items on Lighting .....Please? :) Your comments on symmetry reminded me of one of the best TED Video's, one Beauty. It is not a 10 minute guide, but it's a very informative video all about what the human eye and mind perceive as beautiful and why we see it that way. if you've not see it, you will enjoy it. I was surprised it could be broken down into such simple terms for such a complex item. http://www.ted.com/talks/denis_dutton_a_darwinian_theory_of_beauty?language=en 7 years ago