10 Rules for Best Photo Composition

Posted on: 19th December 2013

Photo CompositionPhotographers would agree that the subject is not all that matters but also the way you are capturing it. Even the most fascinating subject can be considered dull and lifeless due to poor photo composition. On the other hand, the most ordinary of situations can render striking images if properly planned. So if you want to transform your images from blah to breathtakingly beautiful, just keep reading.

But before you start memorizing them and applying to all photo-op you encounter, remember that it will all depend on the specific situation and location. You don’t have to apply all the 10 laws simultaneously if one or several would suffice. Be flexible about it and then these rules will go by naturally as you plan your each move.

Photo composition does not have to rocket science. Of course, there are basic rules you have to remember like ‘Rule of Thirds’ and such but if you are too rigid or too strict about it, you won’t have spontaneity in your final product. Use it instead as a guide to have the best effect you want to achieve.

Besides, you have to be creative and open-minded so that you can work seamlessly in any photo environment presented to you. The important thing is that you think carefully before making any decision because everything can influence the composition and how people will perceive the images.

Your technical know-how plays a crucial role nonetheless. But great images also require visual knowledge. So here are 10 useful tips to refine your photo composition.

  1. Keep the scene simple and clean.

When we look at something through our naked eye, our brain automatically points out a specific subject of interest. This is not the case with cameras. Everything is captured and if you don’t have a clear focal point, your pictures would turn out to be cluttered, messy and downright confusing.

Before you select a camera viewpoint or focal length, decide on your subject and make it the centre of the attention. If it is difficult to isolate it, try to keep other elements in the background or much better, incorporate them in your story image.

  1. Make sure the frame is all filled up.

Amateurs and even professional photographers commit this simple mistake of leaving too much empty space around the frame. Get closer to the subject and just zoom in. It makes it easier to exclude what is shown in the background and have more control on your editing later on. This way, you won’t make your subject smaller than it needs to be.

  1. Mind your aspect ratio.

If you take every picture while holding your camera horizontally, it would be boring. Be adventurous by doing a vertical shot or adjusting the zoom setting or moving to different angle.

  1. Do not put your subject in the centre.

Newbies in photography always want to shoot right in the centre of the frame. But it makes for dull and uninteresting images. This is where the ‘Rule of Thirds’ can be applied. Split the image up into thirds – it can work both vertically and horizontally. Then position your subject on the imaginary intersections or lines.

But there are other options, too. As long as you know how to balance all the elements without overshadowing the subject, then it is up to you how far from the centre you should your subject away.

  1. Lead through lines.

Do not let your viewers drift aimlessly around the scene because you have no focal point in it. By using lines, you can direct your viewers to where you want them to look at your picture.

The convergence of lines makes for a three-dimensional depth and a stronger sense of perspective. It coaxes you to a specific angle in the picture. Curved lines, for instance, might make your eyes move around the frame but will eventually let you focus on the main subject.

Use everything within the surroundings. Telephone wires, buildings, walls, fences and roads all signify lines. It can also be a hint to where the off-centre subject is looking.

  1. Use diagonals.

Vertical lines mean stability and permanence while horizontal lines lend calmness to a picture. If you want movement, uncertainty and added flair, use diagonal lines.

All you have to do is adjust your focal length or change your position. Wider angles offer more diagonal lines since it has increased the perspective. If you use wide angle lens, you’d feel the need to tilt the camera up or down so you can get more of a scene in.

The ‘Dutch Tilt’ technique is an artificial way of introducing diagonal lines. Just tilt the camera when you take the shot.

  1. Give the subject space to move.

Of course, photos are static but it can convey movement and action. It still gives us that feeling like we know what’s going on around it and that the subject wants to just jump out of the frame. This is an uneasy feeling which can be avoided by giving more space ahead of the subject.

  1. Pay attention to the background.

It is not always about the subject. Your background plays a powerful role for a great photo composition. By giving important to the background as well, you would know how to fill the frame well or simply the scene. Even if you cannot just remove the background (because sometimes it would really be impossible), you can still control it according to your liking.

Just by changing your position can be enough to avoid the distracting elements around your subject. Or if you want to throw the background out of focus, use a wide lens aperture and opt for a longer focal length.

  1. Let colours pop out.

The eyes are always attracted to brilliant primary colours especially when there are complementary hues in contrast. For example, a bright splash of colour would be perfect against a monochromatic background. Then again, if there is just single hue all around the composition – that would make for a very interesting scene. The key is to be very careful in which colours to include and which to throw away. Then frame your subjects and fire away with those shots.

  1. Break the rules.

Yup, every now and then, just throw all the rules out of the window and go with your gut feel. Of course, the standard composition conventions are essential for memorable photo-ops. But after mastering it, you can think out of the box so as to add drama and pizzazz to your pictures. Just try to break one rule one at a time, though.

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