Photo composition: the basic rules

Nowadays, with the advent of digital technology and high quality “cheap” cameras, photography is more and more accessible and everyone is able to take pictures. However, just because you have a state-of-the-art camera doesn’t mean you’ll be able to take beautiful pictures. As with everything else, regular practice of photography and a few basics allow for the perfecting of this art. Here are 7 tips on photo composition to get you started.

Photo composition

Photography is first and foremost a matter of composition. What do you decide to put in the frame, how do you decide to place the elements? Composition is the first rule of aesthetics in photography. With a few simple rules of composition, a banal photo can become much more pleasant to look at. This is what we will see here.

Photo composition

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The rule of thirds in photo composition

One of the first rules is the rule of thirds. This rule, derived from the golden ratio rule, is used to determine the ideal proportion of the subject in an image. To do this, simply establish imaginary lines that divide the image into three vertical and horizontal parts of equal size. It is one of the most well-known and simple rules to implement. On most cameras and phones it is possible to display this grid in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen.

These lines, called lines of force, are the basis of the rule of thirds for optimal framing. Indeed a subject that is too centered can make an image boring by creating too perfect symmetry. By framing the subject on one of these lines, the image becomes much more dynamic. To make a landscape photograph for example, we align the horizon line on the horizontal lines, from the top or the bottom, depending on which part we want to give more importance to (if the sky is more impressive, we put the horizon line at the bottom, and conversely if it’s the earth / sea). These lines meet at 4 points in the center of the image. These are the strong points that naturally attract the eye. It is therefore important to place your subject or the dominant elements and details of your image.

The guidelines

When we look at an image, our eye naturally follows the lines it encounters. By judiciously placing the guidelines in your frame, you can lead the viewer’s gaze to the strong points of the image. These lines can be vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curved and are present everywhere in our daily life (roads, sidewalks, buildings, stairs…). You can also use these guidelines with the rule of thirds to improve the composition of your image.

Symmetry and repetition

Pattern repetitions or symmetry are very powerful composition tools that immediately catch the viewer’s attention. An example of fairly basic symmetry is the reflection of a landscape in a lake or body of water. A symmetrical image generally brings a sense of harmony and balance making the photograph more enjoyable.

The repetition of patterns brings aesthetics to an image. When photographing structures or buildings you will notice repetitions very quickly. It is important in this type of photography to fill the frame well in order to optimize the effect of repetition of the pattern.

By using pattern repetition or symmetry in your photo, it can be interesting to bring a break point or an anomaly to emphasize your subject.

Fill in the frame

Often, a photo may lack interest because the main subject does not occupy enough space in the frame and gets lost in the middle of unimportant elements. It is therefore sometimes advisable to take a tight shot to focus the viewer’s attention only on your subject. So don’t hesitate to zoom in with your camera or get closer to your subject. Cropping the picture is not recommended because it will make you lose quality.

The negative space

The negative space is used to highlight the subject of your photo. In the case of a portrait photo, the viewing direction allows you to allocate an empty space. Negative space allows you to give more importance to your subject or to give more context to your photo while bringing a broader meaning to what is happening.

The point of view of the photo

The point of view

The point of view of the photo, or the place from which you will photograph your subject with your camera, plays a major role in the composition and the message to be conveyed. Always photographing your subject at his or her level can quickly become monotonous. Feel free to try taking your pictures in unusual ways and experiment. It can be interesting to stand at ground level, to climb up a table or a ladder, or also to play with reflections (mirrors, puddles etc.). The backdrop (photographing a subject from bottom to top) will give the impression that the subject dominates the viewer. Conversely, a dive shot will give the impression that the spectator is in a position of strength with respect to the subject.

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Odd subjects in photo composition

It is often accepted that a photo with an odd number of subjects is more visually pleasing than an even number. This rule is particularly effective when photographing a group of three or five people.

By following these composition rules you can begin to create more interesting and striking photos. Of course, these rules should not be applied too rigidly. Using them too much will make your photos look monotonous and repetitive. It is sometimes wise to do the opposite of these rules in order to obtain a different effect on a photo. We therefore recommend that you simply practice with these rules so that you can master them and then get rid of them. Now it’s up to you!

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