13 composition rules for new photographers


The composition of a photograph says a lot about you as an artist. Photo composition gives you immense control over how the photo ends up turning out.

How can you bend composition to your advantage? Here are 13 composition rules to follow, no matter what you’re shooting.

1. Keep things as simple as possible

A simple photo composition of the moon.

You have your subject: a person, an object, whatever it is that you are photographing. What else should be depicted in the frame next to them? It depends, depending on whether you are shooting for a client or for pleasure. One thing we can guarantee is that you should only include what is relevant to your final game.

If you’re showcasing a product, you might want to remove unnecessary elements from the final photo. Lifestyle photos, more casual in a broad sense, can benefit from a real environment for the product or model to flourish there. It all depends on the impression you want to make.

2. Watch your perpendiculars

A simple architectural photographic composition.

Few embarrass us in Lightroom like seeing a beautiful sunrise that we totally shifted. You can always even things out after the fact, but please believe us when we say that perfect perpendiculars at the time of shooting make for much better composition.

Drawing square perpendiculars will usually end up being a matter of practice. Tripods with levelers, however, can help you figure things out with confidence. Some digital cameras and even mobile photo apps will also offer level detection; a digital indicator that lets you know when you tilt the camera.


3. Bring the framework to life

A colorful photo of some buildings.

The cardinal rule of photographic composition: unless you’re photographing an isolated subject in an extremely small and devoid of field, you’ll want to fill the entire frame, making sure there are no holes in the version of the photo you plan to share. with the others.

If you’re a photographer, you can probably tell if your photo is missing something important. Once you have the subject in front of you, move your body. Try to find an angle that cradles them with their surroundings.

4. Avoid covering up the subject

A photo of a dog overlooking a wooded area.

A cramped and compact composition is uncomfortable to watch, especially if you’re shooting something that breathes.

Nose and head refer to the extra space we give any living subject in the frame in front of or above them. When you frame a person this way, you create a frame that seems naturally balanced.

5. Sometimes Centered Comps Work Well

A man posing near a lamppost.

If you’re capturing something dramatic, mesmerizing, or worthy of the most central part of the frame, there’s no rule in photo composition that prevents you from placing your subject in the middle. Portrait compositions like this are ideal when you want to bring the subject to the fore.

6. Guide the eye with guidelines

A photo of the interior of a telephone booth.

Whatever framing techniques you adhere to, you’ll need a way to create interest and movement that compels the eye to keep going.

Leading lines can literally be anything: the lines of a road, architectural aspects of a building or interior, and even your subject’s curly hair. Anything that takes you from one part of the frame to another is eligible.

Line composition will make or break your composition. Minimalism has its time and place, but if you want to convey the feeling of a subject embedded in its surroundings, you’ll have to draw life from what’s in front of you, otherwise your photo will seem random and unintended.

7. Use Templates Whenever Possible

The intricate geometric pattern of a building.

A cool pattern, whether physical, like the endless line of bleachers in a large stadium, or simply ornamental, like an eye-catching wallpaper, will carry your photo far.

A pattern can vibrantly occupy what would otherwise be empty, boring space. Even the beauty of a forest canopy overhead can buttress your subject, contextualizing it without necessarily telling an entire story.

8. Create depth: foreground, midground and background

A shot of a hutch in the woods.

This one is simple: your model should never just float in front of the camera. The area behind the model and in front of the model are both prime real estate for adding compositional detail. One of the easiest ways to add a little something extra to your photos is to use props or backdrops in the foreground of your photo.

A palm or even a veil breaks the monotony of a model in front of a plain background or a material subject isolated from the rest of the world. You can mimic this effect in Photoshop, but doing things in real life will always result in a more exciting and interesting end product.

Related: What is hyperfocal distance in photography?

9. Take an unusual or unique approach

An aerial view of some people at the beach.

We’re not beyond crawling on the floor or finding a chair to stand on when we know there’s a cool picture in there for us. Macro photographers will likely be able to attest to how different a subject looks and feels when its proportions have changed significantly after being photographed.

Drone photography is probably one of the most obvious examples in this category, other than really getting into the subject’s face. We recommend that you always keep a small ladder in your trunk or in your studio.

Even when taking portraits, you might find that the model interacts with the camera very differently when held below them or above them. It takes two to tango, so to speak.

Related: How to get started with macro photography

10. Contrast is key

A high contrast photo of a building.

If everything in your composition hits the same key, you might want to shake things up. Color, luminance, and any other kind of contrast can all dramatically improve your photos.

If you’re a fashion photographer, you can coordinate your model’s wardrobe with the world they’ll be posing in. Creating contrast in the eyes is another essential part of portrait photography: eye lights, also called catchlights, draw attention to the person you’re photographing, regardless of their eye color.

11. The power of symmetry

A symmetrical photo at sunset.

This one is obvious. A stunningly beautiful and symmetrical human face is far beyond the scope of this – compositional symmetry is one of the most powerful and dramatic tools at your disposal as a photographer, whether you’re photographing people, animals, products or anything else.

Cities and nature reserves offer many opportunities for symmetry in your photos. Nor does it need to be perfect to echo itself diegetically; recurring themes such as repetitive lines and natural patterns can all act in self-reference, even when shooting slightly off-axis.

12. Listen to your instincts

A person taking a picture of some greenery.

Every adjustment and movement of the wrist plays an influential role in the outcome of every photo you take. If you look through the viewfinder and get lost in one corner or another, act on that feeling. Fill the hole or clear the air.

This goes beyond pure composition, of course, but even things like brushing a tendril of hair across your model’s face will strengthen the composition of your photo. Every part of the framework matters. When something sticks out or gets lost, it’s always beneficial to fix the problem during the shoot, rather than solving it after the fact.

Related: Freelensing for Beginners: Tips for Great Photos

13. Make your subject the star of the show

A person walking along the shore at sunset.

Last, but not least: your photo should be a celebration of everything you take the time to photograph. If you only follow one rule in this list, it should be this one. Follow the person or object that fascinates you and let the reality of the scene show you what is really worth capturing.

Our role as photographers sometimes forces us to take a step back, allowing the subject to speak authentically for itself. Theory and best practice will take you a long way, but never shy away from delving into the ultimate truth of a subject when it takes you off the beaten track.

The composition of a photograph is absolutely essential

The composition rules are simple, but there’s so much more to explore outside of what we’ve covered here. Perfecting your own photography technique is as easy as practicing and giving it your all every day.

A bit of light through the leaves of a tree.
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