What often separates a good image from a great one is how effective each is at guiding the eyes of the viewer. In this tutorial, we break down three of the fundamental rules for creating strong photo composition. And while creative rules are made to be broken, we’re confident that by using these techniques during a photoshoot or during the editing process, you’ll see a huge improvement in your own images.
Like many other techniques in photography, creating effective composition is best done in-camera rather than during the editing process. That being said, there will be times where you may want to make minor adjustments or even completely change the composition in a shot. For those situations, the Crop Tool in Photoshop provides useful guides for some of the most common compositional techniques.
To access these guides, hit C to switch to the Crop Tool. In the options bar at the top of the screen, you’ll find a grid icon (just to the left of the gear icon). Clicking this grid icon will open a drop-down menu of the various compositional overlays that Photoshop offers. The one you choose will vary greatly depending on the content of the image you’re editing, but oftentimes multiple options might be available for you to experiment with.
The Rule of Thirds
One of the most commonly used and easy-to-understand guides to composition is the rule of thirds. Most modern digital cameras offer some type of grid overlay that will help you line up shots according to this technique.
The rule of thirds is built around the concept that by dividing an image into thirds both horizontally and vertically, you can use those guiding lines and points of intersection to position points of interest in an image.
The human eye has a tendency to be drawn towards the intersecting points of these imaginary lines, so by placing the subject of an image at one of these intersections you can create a more natural viewing experience.
The rule of thirds is especially powerful for the beginning photographer. It’s an accessible and effective way to instantly improve any photo that you take while preparing you for more advanced compositional techniques.
If your photo contains strong diagonal elements, the golden triangle is a great option for strong composition. This guide consists of a line that runs from one corner of the image to the opposite corner. Then two lines run perpendicular from that center line to each of the two remaining corners. This will create four right triangles in the frame. By positioning elements in the image to align with these triangles will often make for a much more interesting final image.
The Golden Ratio
Since its inception, the golden ratio has been adopted by artists, musicians, architects, photographers, and countless other fields as a principle of effective design. As revealed by its name, the golden ratio is rooted in mathematics but it can be applied easily, without needing to make painstaking calculations.
The golden ratio functions in a very similar way to the rule of thirds but it can be a bit more precise and can oftentimes more flexible. By placing your subject in the tightest section of the spiral, your eye should follow a natural flow around the curves, eventually falling on the main point of interest. Whether you’re shooting portraits, landscapes, or macro images, the golden ratio is incredibly versatile and can help transform a good photograph into a great one.
But Wait, There’s More!
the art of composition doesn’t end here! There are dozens of other options that can help you frame an image to get the most effective reaction. These three are a great starting point but once you’ve mastered these, continue to experiment with the other techniques out there.
The most important aspect of understanding creative ‘rules’ is learning how to break them. Since our eyes have been trained to look for and identify typical compositional conventions, you can use these expectations to your advantage as an artist to surprise and excite your audience.