12 Rules for Effective Composition in Photography

In a previous post about the composition, I’ve explained why good composition is important. A good composition can bring out the best out of the dull. But in practical, understanding the composition takes a lot of time and practice. But to help in achieving a good composing skill in photography, there are few rules and techniques of framing in photography. Now the main question is, why the rules?

Since the childhood days, we are running away from rules. There were rules to follow in school, then in college, again lots of rules in our society, and now in photography too? Well, technically the most important rule in photography is that  ‘there is no rule’! Because photography is an art, and a great photograph is an output of our own creativity and imagination. But as a beginner, you’ll need some guidance to understand framing and composition more efficiently. Thus, the rules of framing are just some guidelines, which will help you a lot.

Proper framing is important in photographic composition. It helps to enhance the impact of the scene. Compelling, naturally balanced photographs draw the attention of the viewers, as human eyes prefer images with a certain order, not some chaotic image. So let’s check out some important composition rules.

1. Rule of Thirds

One can say that this is the king rule of all composition rules. You also must have used this rule in one way or another. It is the rule which each and every photographer uses all the time while composition. The basic reason behind this is: Human eyes prefer images which are divided three parts and subject is falling at or along one of these parts.

To understand the rule of thirds check out the grid system which is provided in your cameras. There are two horizontal and two vertical lines which divide the frame into three parts vertically as well as horizontally. Now our main subject is placed on one of the lines or one of the intersection point. In some cases, using these divisions, the frame is split in 2:3 and 1:3 parts and is filled according to the theme. To understand the concept more effectively, check out following examples.

A portrait captured using rule of thirds.

A portrait captured using the rule of thirds.

Rule of thirds used in the landscape photography.

Rule of thirds used in the landscape photography.

2. Diagonal lines

Using diagonal lines can be an effective way to draw the attention of viewers, especially towards the main subject. They create points of interest as they intersect with other lines and often give images depth by suggesting perspective. Now the lines need not be always actual lines, there can be lines of shapes, trees. So diagonally composing your frame is, many a time, useful to create a beautiful image, just like the rule of thirds.

Diagonal lines introduce feeling of drama, movement or uncertainty in the image.


Rule of diagonal lines is helpful in placing elements creatively.

3. Rule of Odds

It is a simple concept. Our eyes tend to be accepting the image with the odd number of elements than even. This is because our vision tries to focus on the middle. If we use even number elements, then the middle part, which our eyes will check first, will be empty. So try to use the odd number of elements whenever it is possible.

4. Fill the frame

This is a very important rule or concept which we should keep in the mind while framing for a scene. Many times it happens that while framing for a scene, there are many unnecessary elements coming in our frame along with required elements. It happens mainly because, either subject is too far, or framing is improper. But unnecessary elements distract the viewers and impact of our main subject reduces.


Filling the frame removes the unnecessary elements and helps to focus.

The solution for this, fill the frame. Remove the distracting elements. To do so, frame your scene such that other elements will not be there. If your main subject is far away, then move closer or zoom in. Sometimes these two options are also not applicable, then in those cases, crop the image after it has been taken. Remember that your focus should be on your main subject. A good framing creates a strong impact, giving out some beautiful images.

Filling the frame with only what we want to show is a good exercise.

Filling the frame with only what we want to show is a good exercise.

5. Frame within a frame

In this concept, we are not going to use “frames” in actual. Frame within a frame is a simple trick that is very useful in travel and portrait photography.

In frame within a frame, the foreground elements such as trees, artistic windows, objects having particular shapes, etc are used to create frames for our main subject. Such kind of framing adds a depth in our image, increases focus on the main subject. It is the addition a dimension to a two-dimensional photograph. It could also be used to define the core theme more effectively. Framing the frame is a very creative trick to use and you’ll get much more amazing results out of it.

Filling the frame removes the unnecessary elements and helps to focus.

Trees in the foreground and hills at the background are creating a natural frame for the Fort.

Trees in the foreground and hills at the background are creating a natural frame for the Fort.

6. Leaving Space

The rule of leaving space is the one which probably comes naturally with you, you unknowingly use it many times. Leaving space incorporates with two basic ideas or concept: Lead room and head room. It simply says that, when you are putting your main subject in the frame, make sure that you’ve kept sufficient space (Breathing room) for it in the frame.

It must have happened sometimes that, while taking a portrait of someone, you unknowingly cut his/her head or some part of the body by taking a very tight close-up. Well taking a tight close-up photograph is not a bad idea, but check that whether have you missed something that you wanted to show in your photograph, or that could have explained your core theme more efficiently? It happens with many people.

To avoid such incidences, as a beginner, you should use the rule of leaving space. Consider if you are capturing a portrait of a person. Then make sure that you leave at least some space above his head (Head room). If that person is looking, or leading towards some direction, or there are elements in the background which are related to the main subject, then make sure that you leave the space in that direction (Lead room) and place your main subject in the frame using the rule of thirds.

Leaving space in the frame creates a feel of completeness. Lead room and head room is also useful in putting extra information, which can make your photograph self-explainable.

Leaving the space. As the bird is approaching towards the left in the image, the bird is placed in the right part of the image leaving space in the left portion. Also, the rule of thirds is used here.

 7. Balance

While using the rule of thirds, many a time you may need a balance. Rule of thirds creates some amazing images. But sometimes, while putting the main element off to the middle, you might create a void space on the other side of the image. Such images, heavy on the one side, can disturb the visual balance. To avoid that, put a less important, smaller subject in that space to create a balance. Of course balanced photographs are more appealing to eyes.

Balance in the photograph is required to avoid the feel of emptiness.

8. Background

sometimes we get so wrapped up in the main subject that we don’t pay attention at the background. Background affects the image mainly. If your background is too crowded and busy, filled up with many unnecessary elements, then it would affect the overall photograph. It would disturb your image. The best way is, avoid unnecessary elements in the background by removing them. The best way to increase focus on the main subject is, is use shallow depth of field and blur the background. Now it is not always applicable. Many times there are elements that are required for your composition. In such a case, simplify your background. Frame the scene such that only necessary elements will be there. Keep in mind that simplified images are much effective than crowded ones.

Many a times background tells the story of your image. It is very important how you set the background.

9. Leading Lines

The line is the symbol of direction. Whether it is curved, straight or diagonal, whenever you see lines, your eyes try to figure out where they are leading to. Thus, there is the concept of leading lines in photography. A line, whether it is actual geometric or implied, can bring viewer’s eye into the image and lead wherever you want to. If the lines in your image are leading towards the main subject, then it can be useful to increase the impact of the main subject in your photograph. Leading lines can be used creatively for composition.

Leading lines direct our vision towards a certain destination.

Leading lines formed by rolling drums, leads our vision towards the subject.

10. Patterns and Textures

This rule is based upon the concept I’ve explained earlier, that human eyes tend to be more comfortable with some pattern, than chaos. Patterns can be visually very compelling. They symbolize the rhythm, harmony, regularity which feels great for our vision. Patterns and textures are available everywhere around us, whether man-made or natural. Patterns can be even more beautiful when you break the rhythm, then eyes will have a specific point to focus at. It is quite interesting to capture patterns and textures. It is kind of abstract painting in photography. They are also useful for various purposes.

Patterns and textures can be observed everywhere around us.

Natural Pattern.

11. Symmetry

Symmetry is where the rule of thirds is generally not followed. Like Patterns, symmetrical shapes feel impressive to human eyes. We unknowingly try to find the symmetry all around of us. Thus introducing symmetry in photography is a way to take some creative photographs.

An example of Symmetry.

12. Perspective and Viewpoint

The viewpoint can dramatically change the mood of your photograph. Take time to think about where you will shoot your photograph from. Instead of just taking the image from eye level or equal level, try taking it from above, ground level, from the back or from the side. You’ll notice a drastic difference. Viewpoint helps to impact the importance of the subject, also viewers perspective towards the subject.

perspective can also change the viewer’s perception of an object’s size. Sometimes, try to make something that is bigger, relatively smaller. It’s a tool of creativity in your photography. you can also radically change the perception of an object by shooting it from a distance or from close up.

Use of perspective helps to bring out the creativity.

Now as we’ve seen many guidelines for a better photography, again it’s your job how you implement them. Try some creativity, think out of the box and you’ll realize the difference. But remember that a better composition can bring out the best from anything. As a beginner, every photography is suggested that compose your photograph using these few rules, and keep on experimenting. At the certain stage, you’ll start using various guidelines unknowingly, your compositions will be more creative and appealing. It’s a step to get closer to be a better photographer.

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