Ultimate Guide to Elements of Composition for Photography

One of the first blogs I wrote was a basic guide to photography for website images that brushed over a few common elements of composition for photography.

Today, I’m going to elaborate on 12 elements of composition for photography through a three-part series in efforts to help guide any aspiring photographers, DIY bloggers, and small business owners looking to save a dime by photographing their own product.

Part One of the series will cover Rule of Thirds, Rule of Odds, Balancing Elements, and Leading Lines.

Part Two will consist of Patterns, Textures, and Background.

Last but not least, Part Three informs you on Depth, Depth of Field, Framing, and Cropping.

If you’re like me, some of these compositions may come easily to you, in the sense that you already do it without even realizing you’re doing it.  Others may take time and practice to master.  My best advice is to NEVER settle with your first shot.  ALWAYS take several pictures from multiple angles while testing out these natural photo effects.

Elements of Composition for Photography

–Part One

Simply put, you can define composition as the way you frame your scene.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Romanas Naryskin reminds us that aspiring artists should give composition of their work a lot of attention. “Good composition is one that has just enough detail. Too few elements is bad because it robs the work of art of necessary detail that makes correct interpretation possible. It also ruins the balance of an image. And too many elements can be very distracting as well. Good composition requires good balance. It is best to make sure all the elements present are necessary for the idea or story you are trying to pass on.” And I could not agree with him more.

Rule of Thirds

I briefly discussed the Rule of Thirds in my post ‘If you can snap, you can save!‘, but we’re going to dig in a little deeper on it here.

The Rule of Thirds has to be one of my absolute favorite rules of thumb when it comes to composition for photography.  And the guideline isn’t just applied to photography either, but can be applied to digital designs, films, and paintings as well.

The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have nine parts.

The theory is that your photo will become balanced if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines of your photo.  This enables the viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally because studies have shown that when viewing images the eyes usually go to one of the intersection points more naturally than the center of the shot.

Tip: The easiest way is to switch to grid view on your camera and get use to Rule of Thirds. Try zooming in, shifting the lens or moving around to get the composition right. Before you know, you’re able to turn the grid-mode off and naturally be able to place subjects in the power points.

Rule of Thirds Lanscape by Sarrie Web Designs

A good technique for landscape shots is to position horizons along one of the horizontal lines creating a point of interest.

Keep in mind that post production editing tools are useful for cropping and re-framing images so that they fit within the rules. Experiment with some of your old shots to see what impact it might have on your photos.

Rule of Odds

The Rule of Odds states that having an odd number of objects in an image will be more interesting and visually pleasing than even.

Tip: The rule really focuses on three, framing the subject with two surrounding objects.  This will not matter with larger groups (Five or more) though, few people will feel any different if there are 36 or 37 flowers. The amount translates to “plenty” in brain either way.

There are several reasons why the Rule of Odds work so well.

  • The human eye tends to wander to the center of a group. With an even number of objects, eye will end up at the negative space in center.
  • When we see an odd number it is natural and compelling for our eye to seek the missing component to even it up again, forcing us to look into the picture to try to satisfy the pattern.
  • When placed in a position that creates a triangle three objects form an implied shape that attracts the eye. It is symmetrical, yet it is odd.

The ultimate aim is to draw the eye of the viewer into the shot and keep them looking and finding more interest.

Balancing Elements

Balance is a composition technique in photography that compares objects within a frame so that the objects are of equal visual weight.  When different parts of a photo command your attention equally, perfect balance is achieved.

There are two basic types of balance in photography, formal and informal.

Symmetrical (Formal) Balance

Formal is when one or more identical or similar subjects are repeated symmetrical on each side of a given point.  This form of balance is most often recognized by subjects that are uniform in shape.

The photograph below is a great example of symmetrical balance.

symmetrical balance

Tip:  If this photo was framed using the rule of thirds, with the building positioned  on the left or right side of the frame, it would most likely feel unbalanced because one half of the image would be empty.

Asymmetrical (Informal) Balance

Informal is when one or more dissimilar elements are balancing on each side of a given point.  This type of balance is less obvious because the subjects are not uniform.

The size of each element can be irrelevant, but more often than not it’s better to have a larger element coupled with a smaller element(s) to make a good composition.

Asymmetrical Balance by Sarrie Web Designs - Photography

Use of asymmetrical balance is more challenging and requires more artistic skill and training to do well compared to symmetrical composition.

Tip:  Notice the example follows the rule of thirds. It’s important to keep this in mind when trying to create the best looking photos that utilize the informal balance technique.

Leading Lines

Lines are very powerful element in composition for photography, design, paintings, and films.  Whether geometric or implied, they have the power to draw the eye to key focal point in a shot.

There are several types of lines you may utilize to help lead the to your subject matter:

Diagonal Lines – slanted lines that connects one corner with the corner furthest away.

diagonal leading lines by sarrie web designs

Horizontal Lines – Lines that travel from left to right.

Vertical Lines – Lines that travels straight up and down.

vertical lines by sarrie web designs - photography

Converging Lines – Lines that are converging with another line to form a vanishing point.

converging lines by sarrie web designs - composition for photography

Diagonal, horizontal, vertical and converging lines all impact images differently and should be spotted while framing a shot and then utilized to enhance the photo’s composition.

“A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it” — Irving Penn

The guidelines for the Rule of Thirds, Rule of Odds, Balance, and Leading Lines elements of composition are a great start for any aspiring photographer.  But if they don’t work for your scene,  don’t be afraid to ignore them.

Our next post in the series will explore the pattern, textures, and background elements of composition for photography and may prove to be spot on for your media needs and the last post of our series will cover Depth, Depth of Field, Framing, and Cropping.

19 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Elements of Composition for Photography”

  1. WOOOOW this is really helpful! I’m very interested in photography and I’ve always used the rule of thirds (who doesn’t?! 😂)! On a more serious note, thank you for sharing this! I’ve learned a lot.

  2. If you practice these things with every photo they eventually become instinctive. I remember how hard I had to try to remember it all but I could see my photos getting better

  3. This is REALLY helpful. I’m a food photographer and while my photography has improved I still feel like a novice. Thank you for the images and concise explanations.

    1. I was hoping this would help some with product photography! Part Two of the series will cover backgrounds, which is a key part of food photography. I hope it has more useful information for you to help you reach your goals!

  4. such great advise! I spend so much time trying to get good shots for my blog but I’m no pro – so it’s frustrating.
    I knew the rule of 3rds but the rest was knew to me – love the leading lines shot! I definitely feel more equipped to take better photos.

  5. This was awesome! I am learning photography and this came just in time. I’ve heard of the rule of thirds, but the others I wasn’t too familiar with. I’ll try to implement (and then break) these rules 😉

  6. This is one heck of a good blog. I’m sharing it with friends who will appreciate it. As for me, I am looking forward to retirement with a bit of photography. Your blog makes my day.

  7. And just when I thought I knew what I was doing with my photography, you rocked my world with these tips! Cannot wait to get shooting and try them out!

  8. I always try to keep these rules in mind when shooting, I kind of forgot about the rule of odds though! Looking forward to your other posts in this series 🙂

  9. Really great in-depth blog! Wow. I was really interested in the “Rule of thirds” and loved the tip that the photo will become balanced if I place points of interest in the intersections the photo.

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