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7 Composition Rules and Ideas for More Confidence in Photography (part I)

Have you ever asked yourself what makes a travel photo stunning? Everyone has their own reaction and sense of aesthetics, however several key ingredients need to come together to create a great image: interesting subject, emotional impact, correctly selected camera settings and strong composition. Speaking of the latter, there is no single way to compose an image. Depending on your subject and the story you want to tell, different composition rules may be applied. Of course, rules are also meant to be broken. Here, we offer a variety of ideas for composing well-balanced images with more impact, and in a future post we will talk about breaking all the rules.

1. Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is probably the most widely-used composition rule and often one of the first that beginner photographers learn. It is all about moving the subject out of the “dead center” of the image by breaking the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically, forming a grid. According to the Rule of Thirds, the image will work best if you place the subject on one of the resulting lines or on one of the four intersections of those lines. As a result, your photograph becomes more dynamic and visually more interesting.

The same applies to scenes that include the horizon: try placing it on one third or two thirds of your image. This emphasizes either the ground (or water, for example), or the sky, depending on the impact you want to give your image.

2. Symmetrical Composition

Whether you are looking at interesting architecture or a landscape reflection in the still water of a lake, using a symmetrical composition can reinforce strong lines and make the image more powerful. If you notice symmetry in the scene you are about to photograph, reinforce it as much as you can by aligning all the main points properly. The grid in the view finder or on the viewing screen become very useful to ensure everything is alined correctly. Symmetrical images usually give the feeling of stability, steadiness and balance. 

3. Diagonals / Lines / Curves

By learning to see the elements of a composition, it becomes possible to make the best use of them. Notice the lines, diagonals or curves and look for ways to reinforce them in your image. Using strong diagonals in an image makes it more dynamic and produces a stronger impact on the viewer.

4. Leading Lines

Once you have identified your main subject, look for lines that can lead the viewer’s eye to it. This provides some context and draws the viewer’s attention to the important part of the image. Narrow streets, railings, paved streets, alignment of trees – any converging and leading lines may be used to bring the eye to the main subject. 

5. Triangles 

If your image is composed of three main elements, simplifying it as much as possible by removing any superfluous elements while using a dynamic triangle composition as a good way to add impact.

6. Distortion

If you have a wide-angle or a fisheye lens, push the lines by purposely distorting the proportions of the image. This works best for architecture or landscape images with strong graphic elements. It is not recommended when photographing people as it is far from being flattering, especially if it’s a portrait!

7. Frame in a Frame

In addition to leading lines, natural frames may also enhance your subject and draw attention to it. The “frame” does not necessarily have to be on all four sides of the image; two or three sides will also work.

It is also perfectly acceptable to combine several composition rules, for example, a centered subject with leading lines, or the rule of thirds with diagonals. Train your eye to notice the elements that will reinforce your subject, compose your images and share them with us!

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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.

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