The 10 rules of photo composition (and why they work)

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Poor photo composition can make a fantastic subject look pretty dull, but a well-framed scene can create a wonderful image from the most ordinary of situations.

With that in mind, we’ve picked our top 10 photo composition ‘rules’ to show you how to transform your images.

Don’t feel that you’ve got to remember every one of these laws and apply them to each photo you take. Instead, spend a little time practising each one in turn and they’ll become second nature to you when you’re out with your camera. You’ll soon learn to spot situations where the different rules can be applied to best effect.

It doesn’t have to be complicated

Photo composition doesn’t have to be complicated. There are all sorts of theories about the ‘Rule of Thirds’ and more complex ‘Golden Mean’, for example. But if you pay too much attention to strict formulae, your photos will lose any kind of spontaneity.

In the real world, you’ll be working with a wide range of subjects and scenes, and this requires a much more open-minded approach. What works for one photo won’t necessarily work for another.

The key thing is to understand how all the decisions you make about composition can affect the way a shot looks and how people perceive your photos. The way you frame a shot, choose a focal length or position a person can make all the difference.

Technical know-how is very important in photography, of course, and even in some aspects of photo composition. But to take great shots you need visual knowledge too. Here are 10 key things to look out for…

1. Simplify the scene

When you look at a scene with your naked eye, your brain quickly picks out subjects of interest. But the camera doesn’t discriminate – it captures everything in front of it, which can lead to a cluttered, messy picture with no clear focal point. When looking back at the shot, you eye will have nowhere to settle.

What you need to do is choose your subject, then select a focal length or camera viewpoint that makes it the center of attention in the frame. This way you’re telling the viewer what’s important in the frame. You can’t always keep other objects out of the picture, so try to keep them in the background or make them part of the story.

Silhouettes, textures and patterns are all devices that work quite well in simple compositions.

Why it works…

The simpler the shot the bigger the impact

1. Move in close to cut out the other parts of the scene

2. Silhouettes and shapes make strong subjects

3. The balloon’s radial lines draw you into the frame

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