How to Use 3 Key Compositional Guides in Photoshop

All complex photography techniques aside, composition is a basic skill that every photographer needs to master. Composition can either make or break a photo. While composing in-cameras is always preferred, sometimes you may come across a situation requiring you to make adjustments to the composition during post-processing. Aaron Nace takes you through some basic Photoshop guides that can point you toward better composition techniques:

Nace discusses three composition techniques: the rule of thirds, the golden spiral, and the golden triangles. These are mathematical formulas that artists agree on that make a photograph look visually pleasing and balanced. But as art is subjective, not everyone finds the same thing attractive. Nace takes you through how you can make use of guides in Photoshop for these three composition techniques.

You can access the guides in Photoshop by clicking on the crop tool (or press “C”), and then clicking on the overlay feature on the toolbar that looks like a grid. Here, you can select from the different guides like rule of thirds, golden ratio, golden triangle, diagonal, grid, and golden spiral.

1. Rule of Thirds

Rule of thirds is a basic and an effective guideline to make your images look visually pleasing. According to this “rule,” you divide your photograph into nine segments by imagining two vertical lines that divide the photo into three equal vertical segments, and another two horizontal lines that divide the photo in three equal horizontal segments. The idea is to make your subject fall either on a line or on any of the points of intersection.

rule of thirds

As Nace demonstrates, you can now adjust the crop tool by moving it around so that important subjects in your photo lie on the lines or intersection points.

2. Golden Spiral

The golden spiral is derived from a slightly complex mathematical formula that divides the image into a series of rectangles and then follows a spiral path all the way to the focal point.

To make use of the guide, select “Golden Spiral” from the crop tool and click on the image. To move the guide around, you can click on “Cycle Orientation” in the Crop Toolbar in Photoshop (or hit Shift + O in keyboard). The objective is to place the main subject or the focal point of your image on the spiral by cropping the image.

golden spiral composition

3. Golden Triangles

This composition technique works well for diagonals in your photo. If you have a diagonal in your photo, you can select the golden triangles guide from the crop toolbar in Photoshop. Then, align your diagonal with the diagonal of the guide and crop accordingly.

golden triangles composition

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that although we made use of Photoshop to adjust our composition in post, it is essential to try to get them correct in-camera. That way it will help you improve your composition skills. Further, there are other effective composition techniques like leading lines, patterns, symmetry, reflection, and others that you can use to improve your composition.

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