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Composition – Beyond the Rule of Thirds

by Catherine Ramsey (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     

Composition can be a tricky thing to teach, not because it’s difficult, but because it isn’t an exact science. Following all the rules of composition can’t guarantee the success of an image (good exposure, careful planning and creativity all play an equally important role there), but it certainly can help. Most beginners learn or hear about about the rule of thirds at their very first lesson and it is definitely one of the most useful tools for composition, no matter what you are shooting, but there others that you should try, too.


Composition comes more naturally to some people, but it’s possible for everyone to learn to develop a good eye, using the 5 other common rules of composition below, besides the rule of thirds.

Symmetry

I want to mention symmetry first, because this can be a bit of a tricky one. There’s something very satisfying about things lining up perfectly, and there’s no exception to this in photography. But the thing is, it can be very difficult to make a scene appear perfectly symmetrical. Have you ever tried to get a straight horizon line while hand-holding your camera? Pretty tricky right?


You’ll probably find that unless your image is perfectly symmetrical, your eyes are going to be drawn to the mistake. So in certain situations, rather than forcing perfection, why not break all the rules and go for asymmetry? This tends to break up the scene and make it more pleasant to the eye, building on the rule of thirds.


Rule of odds

As I just mentioned about rule of thirds, asymmetry can be more pleasant to the eye than symmetry. This same idea can be applied to the rule of odds. When photographing a group of visually similar subjects, it looks better when there is an odd number, or an ‘odd one out’. This breaks up the image and gives a point of interest.


This rule doesn’t always have to be applied in terms of numbers either. For example, a group of four objects, though even in number, can be broken up by making one a different colour to the rest. Experiment with different heights, lengths and colours.


Creating frames within a frame

One way to focus the eye on a particular space is to create multiple ‘frames’ within an image, such as shooting a subject through a tree branch so that the outside edges are lined by branches and leaves, creating a type of border for the image. The same framing technique can be used with fences, windows, doorways, archways or anything you can imagine making an attractive border.


The golden triangle

This one may take a little bit of imagination. Much like with our rule of thirds (which involves dividing our scene into 9 even boxes), the golden triangle requires us to split our photo into 3 triangles that contain the same angles, then line our main features up with those lines. These triangles don’t need to be the same size, just as long as they have equal angles.

Orientation

This rule ties in well with symmetry (or asymmetry) and the golden triangle. Rather than sticking to the stock standard vertical and horizontal placement, why not try orienting your camera to an interesting angle, like in the images below. This works particularly well with images that contain lots of lines, as the eye is still drawn along those lines to a focal point, even if the orientation isn’t quite realistic to how we would normally see it.



Read more about other composition techniques in our posts on leading lines, negative space, filling the frame on the blog.

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