Aug 13 2008

An Introduction to Photography Composition

 An Introduction to Photography Composition

lake.thumbnail An Introduction to Photography CompositionHere’s my first comprehensive article part of my Intro to Photography category. This article on the introduction to photography composition is actually a brief summary that’s part of my workshop called: “Introduction to Photography”.

Creating a beautiful photograph isn’t as difficult as one might think. Some people can instinctively compose their images without any knowledge of photography composition rules. Others might need a little help and think things through before it becomes second nature.

We’ll look at some basic composition techniques that will dramatically improve your images. By applying one or many of the following rules, your photos will go from looking amateurish to professional. You will also understand why some of the previous images you took work so well and why you and other people like them so much.
Before we get started, let me point out that these rules are only guides to help you create beautiful images. You can apply more than one rule in your photos…. or none at all! Remember that rules are made to be broken… sometimes. icon smile An Introduction to Photography Composition

Here are the photography composition rules what we’ll look at in this article:
– The Rule of Thirds – Simplicity – Leading Lines – The Natural Frame – Contrasts – Point of View – Rhythm

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is probably the most popular rule out there. It’s based on the Golden Mean (or golden ratio).  Simply put, you draw 2 imaginary lines (both horizontal and vertical) at equal distances from each other essentially dividing your image into thirds, hence the rule of thirds. Basically, the rule is based on the theory that the eye is naturally drawn to those “thirds” and the points at each intersecting line.Here is an example:

Rule of third 1 400x217 An Introduction to Photography Composition


As a rule, you should use these lines to guide you in composing a photograph that may have horizontal or vertical lines. A good example of this are landscape photographs. Most landscape photos will have a horizon (horizontal line). Try to compose your image without placing your horizon in the middle of your image but instead on either the top or bottom third as shown here.

Rule of third 2 400x270 An Introduction to Photography Composition

Here is an example using it on a vertical line.

Rule of third 3 400x281 An Introduction to Photography Composition

You’ll also be using the rule of thirds at the points where the lines intersect with each other as seen here:

Rule of third 4 400x218 An Introduction to Photography Composition

This applies very well for portraits or when you have a clear distinctive subject. Here are a few examples.

Rule of third 5 271x400 An Introduction to Photography Composition Rule of third 6 400x272 An Introduction to Photography Composition



Even before the rule of thirds, I personally think that simplicity should be the first thing you think about when composing a photograph. Try to keep you image “clutter free”. Remember that you want to draw your viewer to the main subject of the photo as quickly and instinctively as possible. Here are 2 tips to help simplify your composition.

1- Get in close. To easily remove some of the distractions around your subject is to zoom in on it. Once you think your close enough, zoom in even more! This is a simple yet very effective way to simplify your image. Here’s an example.

Simplicity 1 400x294 An Introduction to Photography Composition

2- Simplify your background. You don’t always want to get in really close to compose your image so the next thing to do is to remove the “clutter” from your background so that the eye isn’t distracted away from your main subject. You can do this with 2 different approaches. The first one is to choose an even background. This could be a single-colored piece of fabric or paper or an even-textured surface like a brick wall.

Simplicity 2 400x317 An Introduction to Photography Composition


The second technique is to have a blurred background where all the elements blend into each other to form a blur of colors. A blurred background is created by using shallow depth of field (DOF). Here’s an example.

Simplicity 3 400x271 An Introduction to Photography Composition

Leading Lines

There are many reasons why we can use leading lines in our composition. Let’s look at the 3 major ones.

1- Creating Depth. Using leading lines like a road or a path for example, can add a 3D effect to an otherwise 2D image. It will create the illusion of depth like in this image of a road in Western Canada.

Leading Lines 1 400x271 An Introduction to Photography Composition

2- Focus on the Subject. You can use leading lines in your image to lead the viewer towards your main subject; basically guiding the eye to the focus of your image.

Leading Lines 2 304x400 An Introduction to Photography Composition

3- More Dynamic. Leading lines also make your images more dynamic. Usually, that will be achieved with diagonal lines like the image above or this one of my “Mafioso Birds”.

Simplicity 5 400x264 An Introduction to Photography Composition


The Natural Frame

You can also use an element inside your frame to act as a frame. To be considered a frame, the general consensus is the the framing element should cover at least 2 sides of the photo. It could be on either sides or in a L or U shape. It could be be almost anything. Most commonly used are trees or window frames.

The natural frame will bring depth to the photo as well as bring emphasis on your main subject.Here’ example.

The natural frame 400x271 An Introduction to Photography Composition


If you want to make your main subject sand out, it needs to be different from the rest of the image. It can be different in many ways. Most commonly, you’ll find a lightness/darkness contrast and/or strong color contrasts. To help with lightness/darkness contrasts, you could convert your file into black and white or a single color. As for color contrasts, complementary colors work really well. Here is an example.

Constrasts 1 400x271 An Introduction to Photography Composition

Contrasting subjects could also fit in this category, This is more of a psychological contrast than a purely visual one.

Constrasts 2 400x301 An Introduction to Photography Composition

Point of View

A very important technique in composition is your point of view. Where are you taking your photos from? As human beings, we’re lazy by nature and this laziness also transposes in the way we take pictures. Most of us will be standing up and all we’ll do is rotate or bend our knees a little. Now if everybody does that, do you think your image, taken the same way, will stand out? You reduce your chances greatly. Take the time to observe your subject or your subject’s entourage.

Here are the 3 most common points of view for you to try.

1- From Above. Get as high as you can over your subject. Look at it from above. If you can’t get above it, bring it down. Use what you have around you like a ladder, a chair or even your rooftop. In this image, I was standing on a pik-nik table.

From Above 400x270 An Introduction to Photography Composition

2- From Below. Now do the opposite. Look at your subject from below (if possible) or put it up high above you. If you’re fast enough, you could even throw it in the air above you (do not use heavy or sharp objects ;)). The first image shows a typical shot of the spider sculpture and the second one is taken underneath it at dusk.

From Below 400x272 An Introduction to Photography Composition

musée arts 03 400x256 An Introduction to Photography Composition

3- At Subject’s Level. So you’re shooting this cute docile chipmunk in the park. Yes you could do a shot from above but do you think that’s original? How about getting eye to eye with your furry friend? Yes, that takes a small effort and you might get dirty a bit but you’ll see, it’s worth it!

Subject level 400x261 An Introduction to Photography Composition


This is the last composition technique we’ll look at in this photography tutorial. Rhythm is basically a repetition of a subject. This technique is used to create a dynamic impact in your image. The eye will follow the repeated subject throughout the photograph. Here’s an example.

Rhythm 400x259 An Introduction to Photography Composition



26 responses so far

26 Responses to “An Introduction to Photography Composition”

  1. Les Stocktonon 14 Aug 2008 at 10:34 am

    Excellent explanation. Although I’m very familiar with the rule of thirds, it’s nice to see a very visual and appealing (rather than just clinical) explanation. Very good job. I will reference this when explaining about the rule of thirds to any new photography buffs.

  2. Lisaon 20 Aug 2008 at 12:51 am

    Great article, Yanik! Will include this in our next Weekly Linkies.

  3. Soniaon 21 Aug 2008 at 9:56 am

    This was very helpful. Thanks!

  4. kelvin wongon 21 Aug 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Thank you sooo much for each tutorial! I am still a beginer in photography (only one year more experience), and sort of heard of this rule before but not really into it yet~ thanks for the detail!!!

  5. John McGeoughon 22 Aug 2008 at 7:45 pm

    These tutorials are brilliant. They have also given me so much help in developing my photography. I come to photography by way of woodworking. I needed to take pictures of my products for my brochures. Then I needed to make photos for articles. Then I became so interested in the creative aspect of photography I now want to do microstock. You will never know how much these tutorials will and have helped me. Your approach is both accessable and complete. I thank you so much.


  6. Debbieon 07 Sep 2008 at 1:48 am

    This tutorials is GREAT! I loved the picture of the chipmunk and must remember eye level….even if it’s on the ground. Exceptional photos!!

  7. sammieon 13 Sep 2008 at 1:25 am

    thank u so much for these tutorial! its great!
    i dont have photography at my school so the internet is pretty much my only way to learn about taking better pictures. u really helped a lot

  8. Nathan deGargoyleon 13 Sep 2008 at 11:10 am

    Excellent tutorial Yanik. Clear, concise and well illustrated.

    Nice one!

  9. Jocelyn K.on 13 Sep 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Great tutorial, Yanik! Very easy to follow and not an overload of information. Thank you for putting this together! :) And wonderful photos too, btw!

  10. Cassandra Olmsteadon 18 Sep 2008 at 7:28 am

    Thank you for these informative lessons. They are very well done and easy to follow.

    I have a question of everyone. I have had the rule of thirds explained in many classes; however, nobody seems to include the possibility that not everybody sees photographs in this realm all the time. I have found that many classic type “A” personalities feel “uncomfortable” with the uneven balance of thirds – including myself in specific photos.

    In the photos above, most of them are beautifully laid out and draw the eye comfortably to the subject. However, with some photos like the bird in the hand, it makes me feel somewhat off balance and I find myself wanting to move the photo to the left. The Eiffel Tower photo does the same for me, but not to the extent of some of the others.

    I was just wondering if anybody else had this problem and how they deal with it?

  11. Gabriel H.on 26 Sep 2008 at 12:14 am

    Thank you for the wonderful tutorial. It is not as in-depth as some of the others that I have read- and that is a good thing, it helps to have a quick, simple, refreshing review. And yet it still explained each technique quite well.

    Good job.

    Ms. Cassandra,

    I am arguably Obsessive-Compulsive- but once I started taking pictures using the rule of thirds, I was so impressed with the result.

  12. matthewon 15 Feb 2009 at 3:13 am

    thank you very much for writing this

  13. Zsoaon 12 May 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Thank you very much, for these well summarized councils. I will use them.

  14. Halion 11 Sep 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Thank you so much for a wonderful guide. I’ve been shooting for years but it’s so nice to review and see things laid out so succinctly.

  15. samon 15 Sep 2010 at 2:44 pm


  16. benon 29 Sep 2010 at 11:18 am


  17. Amyon 09 Oct 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Hello Yanik Chauvin (Professional Photographer),

    Just a note of thanks for this tutoral. I can honestly say that I understand the concept of composition finally, thanks to this tutorial. 71000 views on the Google Knol, outstanding!


  18. Izzyon 24 Oct 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Thank you very much for making this website.I knew nothing about photography until I found your website. I’m only 11 years old and I’m already taking professional pictures. All thanks to you.I really appreciate it.
    Your fan,

  19. Larry Lourceyon 01 Feb 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Wow- extremely thorough discussion of composition. I wish more people would take the time to learn these rules. Looking forward to more of your posts!

    plano portrait photographer
    Twitter: @larryphoto

  20. Annon 28 May 2011 at 4:26 pm

    that was great info thanks a bunch I’m still new and trying to learn more

  21. Kennethon 16 Aug 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Thank you so much!
    I’m so excited to try this out!

  22. Salmahon 19 Sep 2011 at 6:04 pm

    I learned so much from your website. Thank you for sharing with us. You are very kind.

  23. kardsteron 09 Jan 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Thanks for the excellent introduction into photography composition. You could mention that many cameras today can display the “rule of thirds” grid on the viewfinder to assist with composition. You could also discuss Landscape vs. Portrait orientation to spur those with “atrophied elbows” to look vertically!

  24. haryadi beon 07 Mar 2012 at 11:50 pm

    very clear explanation and sample. . .that’ help me much, thanks :)

  25. Georgeon 01 Oct 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Awesome info. I got to use this website for a test

  26. Triionon 13 Nov 2012 at 8:40 am

    Seems like a great tutorial, but can’t access any of the example images…
    Could you fix this?

    Thanks !

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