Monday, 23 January 2012



Instead of looking at composition as a set of ‘rules’ to follow – look at it as ingredients that can be taken out of the pantry at any point and used to make a great photograph. Here are some ingredients:
The Rule of Thirds
The Golden Ratio
Different Perspectives
Focal Point
Active space

 Rule of Thirds 

 Break the image into thirds, horizontally and vertically. Place points of interest, (focal point, subject) on the intersections or along the lines

Ask yourself, “What are the points of interest?”

With couples place the line between them.

 Place eyes on the intersection

Place vertical objects along the grid lines

 Place horizons along the lines

 Keep Rule of Thirds in mind when post processing (editing/cropping/reframing) images with editing software
 Find the grid in your camera, modern cameras have a variety of composition grid guides that you can overlay in your screen.

 The Golden Ratio

Many photographers believe there is an even better way to compose photos by using the Golden Ratio. They say the the Golden Ratio is the Rule of Thirds on steroids.
The Golden Ratio is a design tool based on the ratio of 1:1.618. It is sometimes called the perfect number because it is found in nature and is appealing to the human brain. Our brain responds positively to compositions using the Golden Ratio and makes the image visually stimulating. So we can use this tool to tap into the viewers subconscious and keep the viewer engaged from the beginning.

There are many ways to use the Golden Ratio but the Fibonacci Spiral and the Phi Grid are the most common.

 Fibonacci a famous mathematician found a series of numbers in nature: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13......(adding the two previous numbers to get the next). He used these numbers in the form of squares to make a spiral which makes an aesthetically pleasing composition.

 The viewer's eye follows the path through the whole image and finally rests on the point of interest. It can work in reverse too. Starting with the point of interest and work through the image to the outside frame.
In Lightroom there is a spiral overlay that can help you crop using the ratio.

The Phi Grid looks similar to the Rule of Thirds but instead of dividing the image evenly the Golden ratio is applied. The balance created with the Phi Grid is said to be better than with the Rule of Thirds. The horizon in landscapes blends into the image and the foreground has more impact, whereas the Rule of Thirds can make the image look too divided.

Once you’ve learnt the rule, you can break it, which can result in striking shots especially if you are aiming for symmetry often found in reflection shots.


Lines are a powerful element that adds dynamic impact to the image. It can lead the viewer’s eye into the photograph This doesn’t just happen it needs practice. Look at old photos and find where lines have worked or not. Next time shooting, consciously ask yourself, “What lines can I see and how might I use them? Ask yourself, “Are lines forming a pattern that might add interest?”
Horizontal Lines

 Conveys stability and rest

 Horizontal lines in andscape format give the feeling of calming and stability.

Horizontal lines in portrait format create emphasis

 The horizon acts as an anchor for the rest of the image

 An unbroken horizon can lead to a static/boring image. Break it up with other shapes, point of interest, mountains, trees and buildings

 Keep the image square and the horizon straight; use the top and the bottom of the viewfinder; use the focal points or the focusing rectangle in the viewfinder; use the grid in the camera; use editing software’s straightening tool. Modern cameras have a horizontal line for a guide.

 Not only should horizons be straight but any lines within the image should be straight for example lines behind a portrait and lines in a building etc.

 If you are purposely changing the angle for emphasis, always make sure that it is severe not just a little bit crooked.

Don’t usually put the horizon in the middle

Vertical Lines

 Adds mood, power, strength, growth e.g. Trees, buildings,

 They are accentuated if you shoot in portrait format

 Keep in line with the sides of the image but when looking up it is not possible so keep the centre line straight

 Look for patterns with other lines

 Remember the Rule of Thirds try not to cut the image in half with a vertical line
 These rules can be broken with strong lines for impact

Diagonal Lines

 It generally draws the eye of the viewer through the photograph

 It adds action and gives a dynamic look and feel

 Studies show people usually look from left to right when viewing an image so put the diagonal line from the lower left to the higher right but not corner to corner splitting the image in half

 Create points of interest at the intersection of other lines

Repeated lines can create pleasing patterns e.g. wind-blown lines on sand dunes, ploughed fields, rows of stairs etc

Intersect lines to create a pattern but be careful not to make it too chaotic

Converging Lines

 Multiple lines that converge or come close to one another can lead the viewer’s eye into the shot e.g. Bridges, roads, fences, pathways, power lines, railway tracks, any lines running parallel into the distance.

Experiment with positioning by standing in the centre to give a symmetrical shot. Step to the side to get a diagonal line but not from corner to corner. You can hold the camera at an angle for different positions.

 Use a wide-angle lens; it makes the beginning of the lines look wider when standing in the middle.

Position the convergence so that the subject will be where the lines converge and this becomes the focal point. Keep in mind the Rule of Thirds.

Converging lines can lead the eye out of the shot but it can create intrigue as to where it is going.

Use of the "S" Curve gives depth to the photo. So does having something in the foreground.

Different Perspectives

 Make your images more interesting by changing perspectives.
 Instead of standing and shooting straight on, crouch or lie down and shoot up, this creates impact and a feeling of size. It makes patterns more pronounced. Put the camera on the ground and chance it.

 Climb above and shoot down.

 When photographing children get down to their level and with babies lie on the floor

 Using a wide angle lens or a zoom gives different angles too.

 Some LCD screens can swivel, use it.

 Focal Point (Point of interest, subject)

The focal point is the central point of interest. You have to think what will draw the eye of the viewers, what is in the image that will make it stand out, and what is the subject. When you look at an image your eyes need a “resting place” a point of interest to hold the eye. Without it people will glance and move on. A focal point can be a person, a building, a mountain, a flower etc.

 Position - place the focal point in a prominent position, start with the Rule of Thirds

 Focus - learn to use Depth of Field to blur out things in the background and/or the foreground

 Blur - play with shutter speeds especially if things are moving around the focal point

 Size - make the focal point large

 Colour - use contrasting colour to make the focal point stand out

Shape - contrasting shapes and textures can make the subject stand out

 Repeated patterns - putting patterns around the subject makes it stand out

Keep in mind a combination of these elements. Don’t have too many focal or secondary points. Don’t clutter.

Active Space

In action photography or where anything is moving you need to create space in front of the subject to move into. This is called the active space. The space behind the subject is called dead space. The reason is, when someone views the moving subject his/her eyes naturally move in the direction the object is moving.

Working with the way the image is viewed will create balance, drama and anticipation. The types of subjects are; people running, cycling, swinging, cars etc

moving animals

Active space is also used in portrait photography. A person should be given space to look into. Leave space o the side of the image where the person is facing or looking.


Backgrounds can enhance the subjects and put them in context or they can overwhelm subjects and be distracting.

Watch out for protruding elements from the subject’s head

 Watch out for lines in the background that will compete with the subject. Don’t cut heads off with horizontal lines like the horizon, window ledge, picture frame etc.

Check the background before hitting the shutter release. Look for things that don’t belong, light patches and lines that clash.

Dealing with Distracting Backgrounds
Use a wide aperture to blur backgrounds and make a shallow Depth of Field.

Fill the frame with the subject. Move in or zoom in. Filling the frame is also important with still life shots e.g. food at a restaurant or at a market. Use your legs and get close. Crop your shots but be careful major cropping causes noise and you lose quality

 While it can be appropriate to take shots that put people in context, don’t let them get lost. Faces disappear when you are a few meters away. So it is important to get as close as you can. Shots come alive with facial expressions like grimaces or laughing.

 Watch out for someone else walking into the photo or behind the subject
Move the subject
Move yourself and change the angle
Pan with the moving subject to blur the background
 Place the subject a long way from the background it will make it blurry. It is best to place the subject in an open field not up against a wall
Move distracting objects like bottles, furniture
Use editing software to remove distractions, to blur, and to change the background to B&W

Framing your Shots

Framing your shots draws attention to the subject by blocking other parts of the image. Use something in the scene to frame the shot.

Benefits of framing
It leads your eye to the main focal point. It draws your eye into the picture and keeps it there longer. It forms a barrier between the subject and the outside of the shot

You can use branches, windows, tunnels, arches, doorways and even people by shooting between heads or over shoulders.

It gives the photo context e.g. archways in a city, foliage for outside

You can blur the frame by using a large aperture or keep it sharp by using a small aperture.

It gives sense of depth and layers if you use something in the foreground to frame the shot
It intrigues the viewer, it makes them wonder a little what is behind the frame but if you get it wrong it can be annoying Be careful not to let the frame clutter the photo or distract from the subject.

Now that you have learnt the rules feel free to break them and still make stunning photos. All you need is a passion, a good imagination and practice, practice, practice.

A good photo should provoke emotion, tell a story and keep the viewer engaged.

A great web site for learning about photography is “Digital Photography School”