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Photography Composition: The 10 Minute Guide

Creative Market March 29, 2024 · 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.â€

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.


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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