Composition / by James Brown

Composition is arguably one of the key factors in making a photograph. Without it, an image will lack energy and life. To keep a viewers interest a picture must guide their eye on a mini journey. Some people are lucky enough to have a natural eye they can simply and easily compose the camera in a way that produces great looking and interesting images. If you lack that ability (I myself am not a natural but that's another story) then following the main composition steps listed below will help develop the skill. 

The more you practice the easier it will become, it will be like you're on auto-pilot with your subconscious practically doing everything for you. I would advise spending a large amount of time working on improving composition, learning what works and why. Like a painter, it's a skill that is developed over a lifetime of trial and error.   


Select three of the ‘Rules’ below and take a picture showing that particular composition guide. If you are feeling brave try using several ‘Rules’ in one picture.  I always advise taking a picture how you normally would then implement a ‘Rule’. As you take more pictures you will see over the space of several frames that you improve quite drastically.  

Change your Point of View

This is the obvious rule. Don't be a tree! Move around as much as possible in all directions while looking through the camera's viewfinder. It might only be an inch or a foot difference in a composition which will make or break a picture. Spend enough time looking for a great angle before even thinking about taking a picture.

Crop Tool


A great way to finalize your composition is to use the crop tool which can be found in most editing software such as Lightroom & CS6 Photoshop.

Rule of Thirds

The rules of thirds is a great way to simply compose any image. By dividing the frame into 9 equal rectangles, 3 across and 3 down you give yourself a grid to work with. Most cameras display this grid in live view mode. By placing the important element of the scene along one or more of the lines or where the lines intersect you will create a very appealing image. Most people will naturally want to position a subject in the center of an image, the rule of thirds trains you to position subjects off center which will produce better results. 

Centered Composition and Symmetry

Our brains love symmetry so it's only natural that this will produce a great picture. In order for this to work divide the picture equally from the center with either side being symmetrical. Think of it like the butterfly painting you did at school. 

Foreground Interest and Depth

Having interest in the foreground will jump out to viewers. It will also add depth as the main focus will be in the front naturally leading the viewer's eye into the middle of the picture. This works extremely well with wide angled lenses.  

Frame Within the Frame

This is very similar to the rule of symmetry. This is very popular with architectural photography as arches and pillars can easily be used to frame a building creating a frame within the frame.  

Leading Lines

Probably the second most popular rule used after the rule of thirds. Leading lines are basically anything that draws the viewer's eye into the picture. Natural lines such as trees, streams, and rivers are perfect for this as well as man made objects. By composing these elements in such a way they become lines that the eye will follow. They can be used to direct the viewer's eyes to any part of the picture.  

Rule of Space

This rule is about directing the viewer's attention to a place you want them to. If a subject is not looking directly into camera or looks out of the frame, there should be enough space for the subject to look into. This then intrigues the viewers into what the subject is looking at. People viewing this kind of image will naturally look at the area where the subject is looking at.

Fill the Frame

If you want to make an impact then fill the frame with the subject. Portraits are a prime example. Make the whole picture a magnified version of what you would normally do. This will create drama as well as impact. 

Left to Right Rule

This rule is designed around that fact that our eyes are used to reading left to right. By placing the focus point of the subject more to the right side of the frame will create pleasing images. This is why advertisers place the product/logo at the bottom right-hand side of an advert. 

Golden Ratio

This is the most complicated of all the composition rules but in my humble opinion the best. Leonardo Fibonacci devised a series of numbers that will produce an aesthetically pleasing composition. This composition is known as the Fibonacci Spiral.The Fibonacci Spiral was created from a series of squares using Fibonacci’s numbers, with the length of each square being a Fibonacci number. A series of diagonal points on each square will then create a path for which the spiral can flow through the frame. Using the spiral as a tool to compose a photograph will allow the viewer to be led around the image in a natural flow.