My Photo Composition Rules

Take better photos, rules for photo composition

com·po·si·tion
ˌkämpəˈziSH(ə)n/         noun 

  1. the nature of something’s ingredients or constituents; the way in which a whole or mixture is made up.

Composition can apply to many different disciplines, but today I am referencing composition in how it applies to photography. Photo composition is all about the way a photo looks, from the lighting to the cropping, even the post-processing can add or take away from the photo’s composition. There are many great general rules about photo composition, but today I’m sharing some of my favorite photo composition rules for taking better photographs.

Tell A Story
Not every photo is strong enough to tell a story when it stands alone, but the ones that do are some of the best. There are some photographers that like to capture a subject, and others that capture the moment. I aim to do both, but it’s a very fine line to walk. As a photographer, you gain a heightened sense for details but it is important to remember that your story should shine to someone who is not looking for details. Think about your shot ahead of time, whether it’s a well-thought out photo or a quick candid one on the go. What story should that photo tell someone in 20 years? Try to use the details in it to tell your story. You can do things like show direction by giving your subject space to move, show scale by being far away or close to your subject, show mood with how much contrast the photo has, or bring warmth to the photo by controlling the temperature.

Avoid The Middle
A long standing photography rule is the “rule of thirds”. It involves dividing your frame into thirds both vertically and horizontally, then placing your subject on those lines. This is a rule that I usually follow, but occasionally break. A sunset with the horizon in the lower third? Check.

How to take better photographs, breaking down composition
My photo subjects fall on the left and bottom lines, and while the horizon does not line up with a line, the reflection on the water does.How to take better photographs, breaking down composition
These palms take up approximately two-thirds of the photo, making it fall within the rule of thirds.

Keep It Simple
While taking any type of photo, remember to keep it simple. The focus should be on the subject. Our eyes are trained to see the what we’d like to first, but when you are taking a photograph you must be able to convey that through your lens. Where do you want people to look first? Let that part of your photograph (the subject) shine. If your background is cluttered, try zooming in or changing angles to clean it up a little. An area that may not have nice light for wide shots could work perfect for more close-up photographs. If all else fails, just move something out of the way, or change locations.

Rules for Photo Composition Rules for Photo Composition
Before / Busy background, multiple subjects, subject is lost in the photo.
After / Moved closer, although the background is still crowded, the subject is the main focus.

Rules for Photo Composition Rules for Photo Composition

Before / Lots of toys and visual distraction in this photo, shovel handle is especially distracting.
After / Removed a few toys and shovel handle so the focus is on the subject.

Break The Rules
Sometimes the best way to compose a photo is to break the rules. The “rules” are more like guidelines when you are learning to compose a better photograph, and as you advance and aim to tell a story with your photograph, you can use the relationship between subjects to aid in that.

Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos, California
This photo of my son Aiden at the Forest of Nisene Marks is breaking my rules because I don’t normally allow something in the background to come out of a subject’s head. I would move left or right just a tiny bit to offset, but in this particular photo the visual line that it draws adds to his tall and thin build. If I moved he would be walking through the trees, but since they form a visual line, he is one with the trees.

I hope that these photo composition tips are helpful for you, if you’d like any more photo tips you can view my photo tips series right here.

I’d love to hear if you have any special tricks for getting the perfect shot, let me know in the comments!

8 thoughts on “My Photo Composition Rules

  1. I remember learning the rule of thirds in a graphics class back in college, so I try to stick with that in my photos. These are great tips, Jessica! Thanks for sharing your expertise, because yes, your photos are beautiful!

  2. Hi, Jessica! I recently got a new camera, and I’ve been reading a lot about basic photography because my skills are elementary. Thank you for sharing these tips!

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