Photo Composition Guidelines

The rule of thirds and its variation, the phi grid, aren’t designed to be rigid. As a photographer, it’s your prerogative to know when to break these rules. If you choose to use these structures, however, you can look at them as guidelines for building your compositions:

The most obvious way to use the rule of thirds or the phi grid is to align elements of interest around the grid lines suggested by the two rules. Sometimes setting up a photo this way is too obvious, though. The composition may appear forced. Certainly, you can move things around and check whether you want to place the main elements of your composition toward the edge or toward the center.

rule of thirds in photography

As Marcin Lewandowski explains, there’s no better way to perfect this but to practice. Look at how classical masters such as Ansel Adams or Henri Cartier-Bresson composed their images, and learn from their styles.

Another reason to use rule of thirds in your photographs is to obtain a sense of balance. Beyond that, you can obtain a degree of cleanliness, minimalism, and simplicity when you use these grids. No matter what you call this, it’s just a way to draw attention to the subject of your photos.

rule of thirds, phi grid

For example, if you want to incorporate the rule of thirds in your photograph and therefore focus on your subject, you have to keep in mind that the image should have less clutter. Otherwise your purpose will be defeated.

You can achieve this by incorporating the technique of negative space in your photos. Negative space denotes empty space around the subject.

technique of minimalism

Negative Space

Place your subject between the grid line and the edge of the frame and find out how it impacts your images. Does it automatically draw the viewer’s eyes to the subject as you intended?

rule of thirds, phi grid

When you use this technique of aligning your images to the rule of thirds or the phi grid, you develop a habit of looking at your images in a different light. When you do that you enjoy the whole process of making images even more and will most likely produce better images.

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