10 Composition Rules in Photography
Photo by Nicole Avagliano

10 Composition Rules in Photography

Published on May 12, 2020

This blog post explains the top ten composition rules in photography to help improve your images. Composition is the arrangement of the visual elements in your shot. In photography, there are some rules that have been proven to yield higher success rates. Within the realm of these rules, you can experiment creatively to find your original style and perspective. Remember to think about the story you are trying to tell. Consider the concept of the photo (friendship, peace, focus) and make sure all the elements in the photo support this concept.


1. The Rule of Thirds

If you have a concept in mind but are unsure of how to organize the layout, the rule of thirds is an excellent guide. Divide the photo into thirds both horizontally and vertically and place the objects or people in your shot along these lines. Aligning important visual elements on these “third lines”, or at the points of their intersection, will assure your photo to be visually proportionate.

photo courtesy of Heiko Behrendt


2. The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio, otherwise known as the Fibonacci Spiral, is another way to balance the placement of the elements in your shot. Many famous images in history have used this formula, even The Mona Lisa! The ratio is 1.618 to 1, and you can use a Phi Grid as the guide. Unlike the grid in the Rule of Thirds, where the ratio is 1:1:1, in the Phi Grid, the ratio is 1:0.618:1. With the Golden Ratio, the intersecting lines are much closer towards the center of the frame.

photo courtesy of Saran Maharjan


3. Fill the Frame

Filling the frame is another tip to help focus the viewer’s attention on the subject. This can be done by getting closer to the subject, cropping the image, and making the background of the shot neutral or relevant to the subject.  Zooming into your subject can be done with your camera zoom, or physically getting closer to the subject. Limiting distractions in the frame is an important composition rule to follow. Do not be afraid to crop out any distracting pieces of an image. Also, choosing a background that is neutral and relevant to the subject helps to emphasize the focus on the primary object of your image.


photo courtesy of Mirko Kuzmanovic


4. Center Dominant Eye

This tip is used for photos of people. When shooting a person, it is most visually pleasing to have the eye that is closest to the camera placed at the direct center point of the image.

photo courtesy of Miguel Angel Junquera


5. Symmetry and Slight Asymmetry

Capturing your shot in perfect symmetry can create harmony and be visually exciting for the viewer. The three types of symmetry are: horizontal, vertical, and radial (ex: plants shot from above, ripples in a pond). Additionally, to adjust your shot subject to be slightly asymmetrical can create tension and be an engaging technique to use. You can use the rule of thirds to place the subject on one of the third lines slightly separated from the center of the image.

photo courtesy of Gerd Altmann


 6. Leading Lines

It has been proven by psychology that our eyes follow the prominent lines in the image. Using these lines to direct the viewer's attention is an effective strategy. This can be done in an obvious way, with road lines leading to sunset. It also can also be utilized in a less obvious way, such as using the lines of different objects in the shot that all lead to the same focal point. For example: lines of a shoreline, rocks on one edge of the frame, and the horizon line that all intersect at the sunset.

photo courtesy of Alvaro Martin


7. Diagonal Lines

Including diagonal lines in the shot can create tension, movement, and patterns in the frame that are compelling to the eye. You can tilt your camera to use this composition tip or use naturally occurring diagonal lines. Diagonal lines can be used as leading lines, to guide the eye to the subject, and create depth in the shot.

photo courtesy of Hassan Alali


8. Frame within a Frame

Enclosing the subject in your shot with a frame is another way to draw the eye to it. You can use doorways, windows, pulling back branches of a tree, or create frames with objects at home.


photo courtesy of Érik González Guerrero


9. Figure to Ground

Figure to Ground is the relationship between the subject and the background of the shot. High contrast between the subject and the background  isolates the subject of your image better and creates an appealing image. We recommend photographing colorful subjects against a neutral background.

photo courtesy of Matt Palmer


10. Patterns

Using patterns and repetitions is another compelling composition tip. There are two ways to use patterns: emphasize them or break them. Psychologically, the human brain is attracted to patterns. Identifying and accentuating repeating shapes and lines can be an excellent way to engage the viewer. Breaking the pattern is another effective tip to highlight the subject of your image.  Using a pattern as the background of your image and having the subject interrupt this pattern dramatically isolates the subject and makes for an interesting composition. You can use the rule of thirds in deciding where to place the subject in the shot when interrupting the pattern.