Fundamental Rules to Compose a Photo

posted on 2nd of july, 2009

The Rules
These rules allow the photographer to gradually gain the sense of composition and own the skills to produce a beautiful image. Once you’ll have a certain experience, rules can be simply considered as guide-lines and be broken too if the situation permits.

This is an example of an image that satisfies all the three fundamental rules of composition. The main subject is placed on the intersection of the segments that divide each side by three, the line of trees lead the eye towards the subject that stands out for its colour contrast.
By the way rules don’t have to be broken just for the pleasure to do it, but only when the message or the information that we want to convey will result amplified in that way. The first rule, the one that is the most commonly considered, wants that the main centre or the centres of interest of the image must be placed beside or right on the segments intersections that divide the photo in nine squares. The second rule wants that the other elements of the photo must lead the eye towards the main subject. Besides the main subject, or at least a part of it, must clash with the background because of colours or tones and this makes the third rule.

Applying the Rules
The ease the photographer is able to apply this rules with, basically depends on the nature of the subject. Sometime, like in still life photography, we have the complete control of the situation and it’s possible to really move the elements until we achieve the results we need. Same thing for portraits, where we can change the position of the model. Anyway in landscape photography the possibilities to modify the scene are very scarce or almost null. All what the photographer can do is to move him/herself in order to find a good point of view that allows to take a satisfying photo of the scene. Choosing the good point of view is often the most important thing before pressing the shutter.
In this photo the boat in the foreground improved the composition a lot. Notice the angles of the boats and the building base’s on the left, both of them are similar and lead the eye towards the centre of the vanishing point.
Even the smallest shift of the point of view can provoke remarkable effects on the composition up to transfer the interest from a point to another. All the points of view must be considered in order to be able to choose the one that better suites the purpose of the photo. It’s better photographing the subject from different points of view and then choose the better capture. Rising or lowering the POV is the the simplest way to improve the composition, giving importance to a part instead of another, hiding what is ugly and showing what is good.

Framing The Image
Sometimes the combined effect of lines, shapes and tones of the elements of the image can lead the eye far from the main interesting points and out of the area of the photo. A way to avoid this is to include inside the image, especially close to the borders, some object that can play the role of a boundary. This photo has a pleasant composition. In fact it’s enriched by the presence of foregrounds, the leaves coming down from the upper and lower side frame the image, the bridge leads the eye to the coast. However the photo would have been improved waiting for a ship to cross under the bridge to add a touch of interest.

Watching like a Camera
The human eye and the camera are similar. Both of them have a lens that projects an image on a light-sensitive surface, the eye’s lens can focus to produce a neat image and has an iris that decides the light intensity and so the camera with its lens, diaphragm and sensor. But from this point on the similarities end. The camera records everything it can without any discrimination, what surrounds the subject is taken with the same richness of details of the subject itself. Our eye together with the brain can concentrate on a certain subject isolating the rest of the scene and ignoring the parts we don’t care. Therefore when we take a photo we might not notice what surrounds the subject being a source of distraction. We can be so concentrated in adjusting the pose of a model that we don’t notice a light pole or a lamp behind her that seem to pop out from her head. Or we might not notice that those flowers on the side of the foreground are so evident that they could convey the idea that they are the real subject of the photo.
Sometimes the photographer will physically or digitally remove the distracting objects or change the pov to avoid them to be included in the frame. If there’s no way to exclude them he/she can reduce their distracting effect by using a wide aperture (from f/1 to f/5.6) to make them appear completely out of focus. This technique of the selective focus is really effective to capture the main subject and make it stand out against the blurred background.

Well still here? Go out and practice! ;o)

Comments (21)

Comment by Luissantos84 on October 13, 2009

Hi! What a nice portfolio you have :) Just passing by to read this interesting blog post! cheers

Comment by Bigpressphoto on September 28, 2009

thanks for the composition tricks, we all trip up

Comment by Jameskho on August 10, 2009

Thanks, very helpful article - now I have a better idea about the rule of third.

Comment by Chrisguy on July 26, 2009

thank you for your article.it's great tips

Comment by G2studio on July 09, 2009

I'm so happy that this article helped you and as it will help many other photographers here. This means that I made it simple and effective. Thank you guys!

Comment by Juliap48300 on July 09, 2009

This is just what I need as I keep getting photos refused for lack of composition. Thanks.

Comment by Marpit on July 06, 2009

Great tips.....complimenti !!!

Comment by Rebeccaosborn on July 04, 2009

nice tips, thanks for this!

Comment by Matt6t6 on July 04, 2009

Thanks very helpfull, I was just reading about composition and the brain, what was interesting, is that we see an image, but emotion takes over ! we can pick out a stunning flower in a garden in seconds and a stunning person in a crowd but the camera cant !!!! So you then have to stop slow down and think about how to capture the image with your Camera and not in your mind.

Comment by Petroruth on July 03, 2009

Thank you for sharing I really appreciate the dreams time family and the helpfulness of all the members. God bless Peter.

Comment by Tanyae on July 03, 2009

Thank you, Giuseppe! Although there are, yeah, fundamentals (as Littledesire said), yet it's useful to recollect them from time to time :-) And I'm also looking forward your sequential posts.

Comment by Heathse on July 03, 2009

Thank you. The best teachers are those that can keep it simple! Even I understood this article and look forward to more!

Comment by Picstudio on July 03, 2009

Great blog, thanks for sharing tips.

Comment by Littledesire on July 03, 2009

Skip the fundamentals :) We're waiting for the secrets :)))

Comment by G2studio on July 02, 2009

Thank you for the good feedback guys! Ok in the future I'll post some post processing tutorial but we must start from foundamentals first no?

Comment by Mani33 on July 02, 2009

Useful tips, thank you :)

Comment by Patrickwang on July 02, 2009

Thank you! Like Littledesire said I too look forward to reading your new blog to share some of your post processing tips.

Comment by Wildmac on July 02, 2009

Very useful, thank you for sharing :0)

Comment by Irisangel on July 02, 2009

Great blog, very helpful!

Comment by Littlemacproductions on July 02, 2009

Simply and visually explained!

Comment by Littledesire on July 02, 2009

Nice and useful blog! But you should write a blog how to create such art works like yours ;)

Comments (21)

This article has been read 2716 times. 19 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Agno_agnus, Konstantin Sutyagin, Patrickwang, Zavgsg.

About me

Giuseppe Parisi: Photographer, Matte Painter, Illustrator Giuseppe Parisi was born June 27, 1983 in Naples, Italy. Award-winning professional digital artist, photographer and matte painter. Winner of the Sony World Photography Award in 2009 and 2012 as one of the first 10 international conceptual photographers. Giuseppe currently works as matte painter and photographer. Giuseppe is constantly trying to incorporate his conceptual photography with his drawing and painting abilities to produce matte paintings and brave manipulations in the world of graphic arts and advertisment... [Read more]

Milan, Italy, IT

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