5 Composition Techniques That Go Beyond the Rule of Thirds

We all know about the rule of thirds by now, but there’s a lot more to framing a photo. This video by photographer Wayne Moran is a simple and yet absorbing round up of a few less obvious compositional techniques that are guaranteed to lift your photography to the next level. So without further ado, here they are:

1. The rule of odds

The rule of thirds is probably the most talked about of all the supposed ‘rules’ in photography. But have you heard about the rule of odds? No? Well, the rule of odds tells us to incorporate an odd number of subjects into an image. Believe it or not, an odd number of subjects in an image makes for a more interesting image than one with say, two or four or even six subjects.

2. The rule of space

The rule of space, often talked about in terms of negative space, helps in creating a compelling composition. An empty space in an image tends to highlight the subject and make for a clutter free composition.

negative space in photography composition

Negative space helps to emphasize the subject.

But another advantage of the rule of space is that it can accentuate movement if you leave space for the subject to move. For example, if you photograph a person running, leave some space in front of them so they appear to have somewhere to go. As Moran puts it, “it shows motion and action.”

rules of composition

Leaving space in the direction the subject is moving creates a sense of motion.

3. Simplification

Simplification, as a rule, is all about eliminating clutter from an image by changing the framing or using a shallow depth of field. This makes the photo a lot simpler and easier to understand. The image of the eagle below is an example of using a shallow depth of field to simplify. Though there is a hint of the flag in the background it doesn’t create a distraction. The viewer is immediately drawn toward the eye and the beak of the bird.

By zooming and cropping tight the photographer was able to eliminate distracting elements from this image

By zooming and cropping tight, the photographer eliminated distracting elements from this image.

4. Symmetry

There is something in geometry and symmetry that accentuates a composition. That’s why the Golden Ratio is such a favorite among classical builders and painters. When you combine geometric shapes in an image with symmetry—so that the left and the right side of the images are balanced, such as in architecture photos—your composition becomes a whole lot more pleasing to the eye.

the use of symmetry and geometry in photography

By incorporating symmetry and geometry you can make your images look more interesting

5. Curved lines

“The human eye wants to roam around in an image, and by creating movement in an image with curved lines, like we’ve seen before, that creates incredible interest in an image.”

the use of curved lines in photography

Curved lines and light trails work as leading lines in the composition drawing the viewer’s attention

The image above was shot with a long exposure—probably around 20-30 seconds. The long exposure helped to create the light trails, which work as leading lines in the image. They draw the viewer’s eyes to the subject.

“You know, the great thing about rules is once you understand the rules you get to break them. Because these rules are meant to be broken.”

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One response to “5 Composition Techniques That Go Beyond the Rule of Thirds”

  1. It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the extraordinary.

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