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A Simple Guide To Master Composition in Photography

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One thing that has seriously helped me to take my photography to the next level is understanding composition.

That’s why in this article I’ll explain to you the main rule of composition, the derivations of it and how I apply it to my images so you can do it on your own.

That’s why this article will have 4 main sections:

  1. The Golden Ratio
  2. Rule of Thirds
  3. Practical Use
  4. Taking it to the next level
💡 Before we continue, be sure to keep this pin in your photography boards, so you never forget how to use composition!

Why Composition? The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio (also known as Phi) was initially studied by Leonardo Da Vinci. He discovered that if you divide a line into two (“a” and “b”) in a proportion that:

  • “a” divided “b” equals 1.618

Then you have a proportion that is naturally pleasing to the human eye.

Why?

I don’t know!

There are certain things wired deep in our brain that are far from my comprehension but stick to the following haha:

If you have a square and you multiply one side by this ratio, then you have something that is already looking similar to the rule of thirds:

Keep this sequence of the Golden Ratio, and we will have the well known Golden Spiral, which, is also known as the Fibonacci sequence. This sequence is basically a pattern where each number is the sum of the previous two number:

0+1 = 1, 1+1 = 2, 1+2 =3, 2+3 = 5, 3+5 = 8, …

Image of the spiral with the Fibonacci sequence.

Pretty cool, eh? Even more surprising is that we find this sequence all along nature!

Fibonacci sequence in nature

But how is the Golden Ratio applied to composition? As we have mentioned before, with the Golden Ratio you can create the Fibonacci sequence, and from here you get the Phi Grid

Composition in Photography: The Rule of Thirds

Now we have understood the basics of composition with the Fibonacci sequence and then the Phi Grid, then we have the Rule of Thirds. 

I am not aware of who created the Rule of Thirds, but I like to think of it as a Phi Grid spin-off

What the rule of thirds does is to divide each section of the frame in similar proportions, resulting in a perfectly symmetrical grid.

The rule of thirds has the benefit of being more comfortable to use compared to the Phi Grid. Clearly, you might not be getting the perfectly aesthetical composition that Phi Grid gives you, but the trade-off is very minimal. 

In the rule of thirds, the sweet spots are easier to find and to align, this also allows you easily create balanced compositions.

Rule of Thirds applied ->

I’m locating the eyes in the upper left “sweet spot” and viggetting all the surroundings to drive the attention to his eyes

Using one of the 4 sweet spots is already a good gob, but ideally you want to use at least 2 of them. However, if you are using 2 of them, you want them to be positioned in the exact opposite third, otherwise, you will end up with an unbalanced image.

Composition in Photography: Practical Use

In my opinion, the dreamed composition will always be under the Phi Grid, however, it can turn to be so hard to nail it that I just use for the rule of thirds. 

Besides, most cameras come with the option of displaying the rule of thirds when shooting, which clearly helps a lot when composing in the field.

Sometimes nailing the composition in the camera is very hard. You might be in a rush, or shooting fast-moving objects where it is just hard to compose, that’s why I always see if I can enhance the composition in Lightroom.

crop tool in lightroom
Cropping in LR to place the Cusco Cathedral in the right line.

Taking it Composition in Photography To The Next Level

I always use -or try- the rule of thirds when composing for an image, but if you want to take to the next level, then you need to leading lines so the viewer’s eyes “travel” through the photo.

Guiding lines can be different things like streets and rivers.

Now, this might be polemic, I have noticed in many blogs that people use anything as a line. Some things are so abstract that it’s like, “really?! how the heck is that a line!”. So my advice on this one is try to keep it simple.

Think the following: when you look at an image, do you take the time to analyze it? Most likely is that you just look at it for a few secs and then “next”.

That’s why I’d recommend you to don’t be too original 😂. I mean, it’s good to be original, but keep it “originally common”

guiding lines in a street
A great example how guiding lines help you to drive attention to a subject (a Quechua Woman in this situation)

Breaking the Rules:

Generally, I would not break the rule of thirds unless I am being able to create one of the following:

Symmetrical Composition

Though, I believe they are harder to accomplish, sometimes symmetrical images can be even more interesting than the classic rule of thirds.

Using lakes, to reflect a mountain or a window to reflect people passing by are some common symmetrical compositions.

reflection as a composition tool

Cool Framing

I have been using this style more and more with time. Using a “frame” in your images does not only help you to create more interest, but also allows you to center your subject and create more depth in your image.

If you are shooting in boring locations, then try to frame! You will be immediately leveling up your picture.

If I wouldn’t have framed the image on the right, it would have turned to be just another picture. Blue sky, a nice mountain, and bleh…

But! With the natural frame, this image tells an entirely new story. Less dead space and more focus in the mountain at the back!

A mountain surrounded by trees that create a frame for the image

Now that you have read A Simple Guide To Master Composition in Photography

Next time you go shooting remember the following:

Remember the importance of the Phi Grid as it is what our brain consider as a beautiful aesthetically composition

Grab your camera an enable the Rule of Thirds Grid.

Start by focusing your subjects in the sweet spots.

Always try to enhance your composition in Lr with the crop tool

When possible, try to create different and interesting shots with reflections and frames.

Finally, remember to pin this article and to subscribe to our newsletter for more fantastic photography tips!

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