Friday, March 21, 2008

Back to Basics: Rules of Photographic Composition

Back to Basics: Rules of Photographic Composition

With the advent of the digital camera and home computer, more and more people are fancying themselves “photographers” without having a basic understanding of photographic composition

Just by knowing a few photographic basics, the novice can be helped immensely, and even those that have been at it for quite some time can always use a reminder, myself included. There are several compositional rules, but I am going to talk about the ones that I find the most important.

1. The Rule of Thirds

Imagine your viewfinder or image divided into nine parts. Two vertical lines and two horizontal lines, equally spaced, creating nine equal sections, looking like a tic-tac-toe board. If you look at these lines, this is where you can place your important lines and where these lines intersect is where important elements in your image can be placed. Studies have shown that the human eye is naturally drawn to the upper right intersection point, so try to use that to your advantage.

2. The Golden Rule

Similar to The Rule of Thirds in its concept, but a little different in execution. This was developed hundreds of years prior to photography and was used by the ancient Greeks in their architecture and art. Leonardo da Vinci elaborated on this theory, relating it to proportional harmony.

Imagine your image again divided into nine parts by four lines, but this time, the lines are closer together in the middle of the image both vertically and horizontally. The resulting sections proportional width to the entire frame is the key here. Each line is drawn so that the width of the resulting small part of the image relates to that of the big part exactly as the width of the whole image relates to the width of the big part. Points where the lines intersect are the "golden" points of the picture. By placing items at or near these intersections, and along these lines, the proportions of the image relate peacefulness and serenity to the viewer.

3. The Diagonal Rule

Simply stated, linear elements in the image, such as paths, roads, important shadows, fences, streams, etc… when placed along a major diagonal are much more dynamic than when placed horizontally or vertically.

4. Leading Lines

Use natural lines within your image to lead the viewers eye where you want it to go.

5. Separation

Separate your subject from the background. You can do this by using a shallow depth of field, or by using a contrasting background.

Now, be aware that adherence to these rules will not guarantee you a good photograph, and there are many good photographs that don’t adhere to these rules, but by knowing the basic compositional guidelines, you can certainly increase your chances. It’s OK to break the rules, but you need to be breaking them for a reason.

Questions? Just ask.


Nina Kuriloff said...

i like this shot of the onion.
there is a wonderful sense of depth here.
the shape of the onion is very lovely, too.

Kerry said...

I'm going to play with my camera today...thanks for the inspiration!

Caroline said...

Very well-written!

sherry said...

This is an outstanding post, and since I'm retaking many jewelry shots this weekend, I will refer back to it.

Thanks for commenting on my blog. I knew it wouldn't get any easier, the challenges are different, though. Ah, but to be in greece in springtime.

Gallery Juana said...

very imformative ... Now I want to search for other tips on your blog. Most of the traditional Japanese arts also use thirds or groups of three as their basic composition rule.

ThePeachTree said...

incredible post! I may even have to print this out :)

Rascallion said...

Great post, thank you. You even make an onion look good. I need to get practicing because sadly, my photographs look more like onions than your onion does.

Waterrose said...

Thank you so much...clear and concise! I'm looking for a new camera that has a viewfinder this time..i hate just seeing on the screen...sometimes it's almost impossible with glare!

Karine said...

Thank you for the lesson! Your blog is great - I'll be back. Thanks for your post on my blog, too.

TexasTesla said...

Amazing how you can make even a simple onion look spectacular with the right composition.

Field Notes said...

Fantastic lesson! I find myself instinctively using all of the techniques except the diagonal. I will have to add that to my arsenal :D Thanks!

Cicada Studio said...

Ah, very informative. Nice to know that without realizing the "rules" I follow a lot them myself. I think in some ways, instinctually, people can see when these rules are applied it makes for a more interesting image, even when they are not always defined like this. Nice work!