The Rule of Thirds:
The rule of thirds is very simple. You divide the frame into 9 equal
rectangles, 3 across and 3 down as illustrated below. Many camera manufacturers
have actually included the capability to display this grid in live view mode.
Check your camera’s manual to see how to turn on this feature. Add Pic
In this photo, the horizon has been roughly placed along the bottom
third of the frame and the biggest and closest trees along the line to the
right. The photo wouldn’t have the same impact if the larger trees had been
placed in the centre of the frame.
The idea is to place the important element(s) of the scene along one or
more of the lines or where the lines intersect. We have a natural tendency to
want to place the main subject in the middle. Placing it off centre using the
rule of thirds will more often than not lead to a more attractive composition.
Composition and Symmetry
There are times when placing a subject in the centre of the frame works
really well. Symmetrical scenes are perfect for a centred composition. They
look really well in square frames too. Add Pic
Interest and Depth
Including some foreground interest in a scene is a great way
of adding a sense of depth to the scene. Photographs are 2D by nature.
Including foreground interest in the frame is one of a number of techniques to
give the scene a more 3D feel. Add Pic
In this photograph of a waterfall, the rocks in the river
provided a perfect source of foreground interest. Adding foreground interest
works particularly well with wide-angle lenses.
4. Leading Lines
Leading lines help lead the viewer through the image and
focus attention on important elements. Anything from paths, walls or patterns
can be used as leading lines. Take a look at the examples below. Add Pic
In this photo of the Eiffel Tower, the patterns on the paving
stones are used as leading lines. The lines on the ground all lead the viewer
to the Eiffel Tower in the distance. You’ll also notice that a centred
composition is used for this scene. The symmetry of the surroundings made this
type of composition work well. Add Pic
Leading lines do not necessarily have to be straight as
illustrated by the picture above. In fact curved lines can be very attractive
compositional features. In this case, the path leads the viewer to the right of
the frame before swinging in to the left towards the tree. The rule of thirds has
also been used when composing this shot.
5. Fill the Frame
In the photo of the lion on the left, you’ll notice that the
frame has been completely filled with his face, even cropping out the edges of
his head and mane. This allows the viewer to really focus on details such as
the eyes or the textures in his fur. You may also notice that the rule of
thirds has been used in this composition.
In the second shot of the Cathedral, very little space has been
left around the edges of the building. the point of this photograph is to
showcase the architectural detail of the front façade of the building.
6. Leave Negative Space
In the last guideline, we learned that filling
the frame works well as a compositional tool. Now we are going to see that
doing the exact opposite works well too. Leaving a lot of empty or ‘negative’
space around your subject can be very attractive. It creates a sense of
simplicity and minimalism. Like filling the frame, it helps the viewer focus on
the main subject without distractions.
photo of a giant statue of the Hindu god Shiva in Mauritius is a good example
of using negative space. The statue is obviously the main subject but plenty of
space has been left, filled only by sky around it. This focuses our attention
on the statue itself while giving the main subject ‘space to breath’ so to
speak. The composition also creates a sense of simplicity. There is nothing
complicated about the scene. It is the statue surrounded by sky, that is all. Again,
the rule of thirds has been used to place the statue to the right of the frame.
7. Simplicity and
the last guideline, we saw how leaving negative space around the main subject
can create a sense of simplicity and minimalism. Simplicity itself can be a
powerful compositional tool. It is often said that ‘less is more’. Simplicity
often means taking photos with uncomplicated backgrounds that don’t distract
from the main subject. You can also create a simple composition by zooming in
on part of your subject and focusing on a particular detail. Add Pic
8. Change your Point of View
photos are taken from eye level. Getting high up or low down can be a way of
creating a more interesting and original composition of a familiar subject. You
must have seen wildlife photographers in particular lying in the mud on their
bellies to get the perfect shot. Add Pic
9.Rule of Space
rule of space relates to the direction the subject(s) in your photo are facing
or moving towards. If you are taking a photo of a moving car for example, there
should be more space left in the frame in front of the car than behind it. This
implies that there is space in the frame for the car to move into. Take a look
at the example of the boat below. Add Pic
this photo, the boat is placed on the left hand side of the frame as it moves
from left to right. Notice how there is a lot more space for the boat to move
into in front of its direction of motion (to the right) than behind it. We can
mentally imagine the boat moving into this space as it sails along the river. We
also have a subconscious tenancy to look forward to where an object is heading.
If the boat was right up at the right hand side of the frame, this would lead
us out of the photograph!
10. Balance Elements in the Scene
compositional guideline we looked at in this tutorial was the ‘rule of thirds’.
This of course means that we often place the main subject of the photo to the
side of the frame along one of the vertical grid lines. Sometimes this can lead
to a lack of balance in the scene. It can leave a sort of ‘void’ in the rest of
this, you can compose your shot to include a secondary subject of lesser
importance or size on the other side of the frame. This balances out the
composition without taking too much focus off the main subject of the
Take a look at the
photograph below of the ornate lamppost. Add Pic
itself fills the left side of the frame. The Eiffel Tower in the distance
counter balances this on the other side of the frame.
The photo above was taken in Venice. Once
again, a decorative lamppost dominates one side of the frame. The church tower
in the distance provides balance on the other side of the frame.
You may have
remarked that this seems to go against the idea of negative space mentioned in
guideline number 6. As we said at the very beginning of this tutorial, there
are no unbreakable rules in photographic composition. Some of these guidelines
contradict each other and that’s ok. Some guidelines work well for certain
types of photographs and not others. It’s a question of judgement and
experimentation. So go out and experiment with frame compositions!
11. Golden Ratio
is the golden ratio? Well it’s actually very simple: two quantities are in the
golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger
of the two quantities. Sounds too complicated?!
reality it’s quite simple. It’s like a slightly more complex version of the
rule of thirds. Instead of a regular grid, the frame is divided into a series
of squares as in the examples below. This is known as a ‘Phi Grid’. You can
then use the squares to draw a spiral that looks like a snail’s shell. This is
called a ‘Fibonacci Spiral’. The squares help to position elements in the scene
and the spiral gives us an idea of how the scene should flow. It’s a little
like an invisible leading line.
is believed that the golden spiral method of composition has been in existence
for over 2,400 years having been devised in Ancient Greece. It is widely used
in many types of art as well as architecture as a way of creating aesthetically
pleasing compositions. It was particularly well employed in Renaissance art. Add Pic
In this photograph above the bridge and steps
on the left occupy the large square to the right. The Fibonacci Spiral then
leads us from here across the top of the bridge and down to the two women
sitting next to it. Add
golden ratio can be set up in different directions. In this photo taken in
Prague, the spiral leads us across the bridge to the castle on the far bank.
It would be
seem very difficult to have all of these compositional guidelines in your mind
as you are out shooting. However, a good exercise is to make an effort to use
one or two of them each time you go out. You could do a photo session where you
look for situations to use a ‘The Rule of Thirds’ for example.
while, you’ll find that a lot of these guidelines become ingrained. You will
begin to use them naturally without having to think about them. So, go out and
experiment and have a nice time composing your photographs!