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Compositional Rules in Photography (Start Here)

Compositional Rules

As a beginner photographer you must surely be looking at the images made by other photographers, people whose work you admire. Among the many things that you may no doubt notice you may also have noticed that somehow the compositions of these photographers tend to be a lot more eye catching.

There is no magic wand which you can wave and your photography can become better all of a sudden. It does take a considerable amount of time and energy to develop the necessary skills to make great images. One thing that is also required is a good understanding of the Compositional Rules of photography.

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Yes, there are rules in photography. But don’t get disheartened, these are not designed to superimpose on your creativity. Rather, you can consider them as guides, meaningful tried and tested guidelines which have worked this far. Once you have mastered these rules, you would be able to go beyond them, break them whenever necessary so that you can create even more compelling images.


Leading Lines

Into the Mist 2 by Jayt74
Into the Mist 2 by Jayt74

Leading lines has been used by photographers in different ways to compose their images. However, the most dominant use of leading lines is that it draws the attention of the user to the main subject of the image. Sometimes, though, leading lines is simply used to draw the eyes of the viewer deeper into the image. It remains one of the sure-fire ways to capture attention grabbing images, allowing the eyes to follow a line and wander into the image.

Rule of Thirds

Flashlight [3] by Rick Harris
Flashlight [3] by Rick Harris

Probably the most talked about and therefore clichéd rule in photography is the rule of thirds. While using your camera viewfinder / LCD screen you may have accidentally come upon a grid line, nine square boxes arranged in three rows of three. If you turned it off without realizing what it is you deprived yourself one of the best ways to compose correctly, using the rule of thirds. Placing the most important aspect of the image on one of the intersecting points makes the image more appealing to the human eye.

Negative Space

I'm alone | Explored
I’m alone | Explored

Negative space is all about leaving space, and lots of it, in the image to ensure that the main subject occupies a small portion of it. How much space to leave depends on you and the final look of the image. One of the uses of negative space is in commercial and stock photography. Negative space allows an editor to put content and tag line. However, that is just the commercial attribution. Certainly the use of this rule is more to do with compositional value.

Horizon Line

Misty Fall Road - HDR
Misty Fall Road – HDR by Nicolas Raymond

The horizon line need not be right at the middle of the frame. I know it kind of looks right but then that’s not necessarily useful. The horizon line should be either 2/3rds the way down or up depending on whether the sky is more interesting or the foreground.

Symmetry and Patterns

Symmetry is closely related with beauty. Perfect symmetry is always eye catching. Try and incorporate anything that is symmetrical in your images and the quality of your compositions will go up automatically. Patterns are yet another aspect that lend a degree of interest to your images, especially when a pattern is broken.

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