Composition in Photography – Rules are Sometimes No Need to Obey

Composition in Photography – Rules are Sometimes No Need to Obey

Composition in photography is one of the most important skills that a photographer needs to practice a lot. Another important skill is the use of light. Composition is the first criterion to consider if a photograph is good or not. There is no complicated knowledge when talking about composition in photography. A good composed photograph pops your subject or idea easier. There are some basic rules in composition. But a great photograph sometimes does not follow these rules. Below are some ideas that “normally” produce a good photo.

Rule of Thirds – First Thing to Learn about Composition in Photography

First Thing to Learn about Composition in PhotographyThe first rule I want to introduce about composition in photography is the rule of thirds. This is a common rule for all visual art fields. When you are doing composition in photography, simply divide the photo into three equal parts, both horizontally and vertically. You can see there are two vertical and two horizontal lines in the viewfinder like this.

Put the subject onto the intersection point of these lines can attract people’s attention easier. Compare to a centred subject, a subject on the two third position tends to catch people’s eyes.

rule of third example

If you are shooting large landscape, such as grassland, sea, sky, etc., you can put the subject you want to present to full two third of the image. The horizontal line or the vertical line is used for the separation.

rule of third example 2

Rule of third is widely use in landscape, portrait, wildlife, and other types of photography. Rules of third “generally” produce a good image but you also need a great moment of lighting so as to create a “great” image.

Leading Line

Leading Line ExamplePeople’s eyes are naturally drawn along lines when they look at an image. You can look for lines when composing a photograph. By putting the subject at the end of the leading line, people will follow the line and reach your subject.

Leading line and rule of thirds work well together. Your image can create an interesting point for the audience.


Many beginners think composition in photography is the easiest thing to learn. Yes, it is, but the most difficult thing to improve. It is because most of them are missing an important thing which I also missed when I first learn photography: Contrast. Contrast is almost a must in every great photo. It makes your subject stand out. If there is no contrast in a photo, your audience would find your photo boring and no place to focus on. Without contrast, the subject cannot attract eye ball. There are different ways to create contrast in a photograph.

Tonal Contrast

In the days when colour photography is not yet invented, photos have only white, black and shades of grey. To create photo with good tonal contrast, you are required to find the highlight and shadow and have good use of light. A simpler way to capture it is to put bright subject on dark background or the other way round. The most efficient way to practice tonal contrast is to take black-and-white photo.

Color Contrast

Colour WheelThis is the point where beginners always miss out as it is always being ignored. Colour contrast is important in a coloured image, no matter which kind of visual artwork. Making a colour contrast is more difficult than creating a tonal one. You have to know the colour wheel first.

The colour wheel is simply divided into two parts, warm colours and cool colours. Warm colours are those on the side of red, orange, yellow where cool colours are those located on the side of blue, green and violet. To create a contrast by colour, we need the opposite colour. You can just pick any colour and draw a straight line to the opposite. That is the opposite colour.

Colour Contrast Example

A good photographer should remember the common contrasting colour:

  • red vs green
  • yellow vs violet
  • orange vs blue

I suggest you to keep these in mind when doing composition in photography. This can also help you to improve your ability of observation.

Sharpness Contrast

This is the simplest way to create contrast. All you need is a lens with large aperture or long focal length. Creating a photo with shallower depth of field is the method. Yes, to create sharpness contrast means creating blurry background. Sometime, you can also include a blurred foreground to create more 3D image.

Sharpness Contrast Example

Other Contrast

You can also try to create other contrast such as big and small, a single object between a group of twins, and etc. The idea of this is to create something different and that difference is the interest point for the audience. However, the most important thing is practice.

Giving Up

“Drawing is art of addition while photography is art of subtraction.” This is very true. When one is drawing, he always adds new things onto the drawing paper. On the other hand, when one is photographing, he only captures a part of the environment. This is subtraction. That is why photography is art of subtraction. I want you to find some photos which you think it is great and can recall easier. What are those photographs’ compositions?

Elements of great photos are usually simple composition, good contrast and great moment. A simple composed photo can easily give a good contrast. A great moment photo cannot pop out without a good composition. Therefore, making simple composition is the most fundamental thing a beginner photographer needs to practice. Give up all the things that cannot add value to your photo. Remove rubbish before release shutter, wait the passenger pass before release the shutter, use longer lens to include less background, change the viewing angle, etc.

There is no exact formula to capture a great photograph. All I can do is to suggest the ways of how to practice.

  1. Learn the basic rules
  2. Try them out
  3. Get the feel
  4. Forget all the rules

Photography is a kind of art, no rules are “rules” at all. The keys for success and improvement are really simple. Practise. Practise. And more practise. Remember to share this post to your friends by clicking the share buttons below. Stay tuned for the next tutorial.