Guidelines for Good Composition Rule of Thirds Photography Beginning Photography

Great photos are created; not simply captured. Creating a photograph with well thought out composition can make the difference between an average shot and one that stands out in the realm of visual interest. Learning the basic guidelines to good composition will take your photographs to another level. The more you take your time and practice the following guidelines when preparing to take a shot, the sooner they will become second nature to you each time you pick up your camera.

Subject Matter and Simplicity

It is easy to point your camera and shoot a scene of interest that catches your attention, but will the photo prove to be compelling? Probably not, if you haven’t taken the time to consider what exactly it is you are shooting. The first thing you want to determine before clicking the shutter is your specific subject matter. Is it the red fire hydrant on that busy street corner or the cars passing by? Is it the yellow rose with the bee or the whole bush? Is it the bird on the fence post or the tree branches from the trees that reach down behind the bird?

The most compelling photographs are the photographs that use the rule of simplicity. If we decide our subject matter is the red fire hydrant, then angling our camera lens in order to alleviate a busy background that will take away from our subject does the job of simplifying our composition. Moving three feet to the left or right of the bird in order to frame it against the bright blue sky instead of against the busy tangle of the tree branches improves our composition greatly. Getting in close to the single yellow rose will help avoid the visual distraction of the rest of the flowers surrounding it. Keeping it simple keeps it interesting and makes your intent clear.

Off Center Placement and the Rule of Thirds

Look through your photos and count the amount of times you place your subject in dead center of the frame. My guess is that it is pretty high. It is not always a bad thing to place your subject in the center and it can at times play an important role in your attempt to communicate your intent, however, the most compelling photos throughout history have always played with the Rule of Thirds in mind.

Next time you look through your viewfinder, imagine the area is divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Your rectangular picture area would consist of nine little intersecting squares. That would leave you with four possible placement choices for your subject matter that would leave them off center in the picture plane. That means the tree you are about to photograph would be placed either in the upper right, lower right, upper left or lower left portion of your viewfinder. When placing a moving subject into one of those areas, make sure that the empty space in the frame appears in front of the moving subject, which is totally dependent on the direction they are travelling. If you place the empty space behind the moving subject, it will create an uncomfortable visual tension and make it appear that the subject is leaving the photograph.

It is also a good rule of thumb to place horizons and verticals off center in landscape type photos. In other words, if you are photographing a cruise ship in the ocean with a sunrise behind, make sure you do not have equal quantities of ocean and sky with the horizon line dividing directing through center. By placing the cruise ship farther down in the frame or farther up in the frame and increasing either the portion of water or sky, your photograph will become very interesting to look at indeed.

To Merge or Not to Merge

So, you have taken your time to identify your subject matter and have changed the angle of your shot to simplify your composition. You then spent a few minutes deciding which third of the picture frame to place your subject in to create the most compelling shot. You take a deep breath and click the shutter. Alas, when you get home and put your photos on your computer then forward through to what is bound to be your best shot, you gasp loudly! Why in the heck is that lamp post growing straight out of your subjects head? That was the same post that sat off in the distance across the street from your subject when you composed the shot. The important thing to remember here is that as humans, we see things in three dimensions, but a camera does not. When you take a photo with a camera, unless you have delved into depth of field (DOF) settings, anything directly behind your subject will flatten out and pretty much become one with your subject matter.

The solution is simple. Make certain that you are taking the photo of your subject against a plain background if possible; such as the sky or a solid wall. If you take your time to study your viewfinder before you snap the shot, you will notice those protrusions and be able to change your angle of view to place the protrusion to the side or out of sight of your subject. This will ensure you will have fewer surprises when you run home to print out that favorite photo.

When it comes to taking good photographs one of the best things you can do is slow down and think about what you are doing before you push the shutter. The use of patience and the application of the aforementioned guidelines will take your photography skills to that next level.