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Considering the Rules of Photographic Composition

Part of the Digital Photography Composition For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The rules of composition in photography are more like guidelines than laws. You're ultimately in control of how your photographs are composed, but the following time-tested tips are worth considering when you're deciding how to compose a particular scene:

  • Apply the rule of thirds by breaking your frame into thirds vertically and horizontally. Anything that you place on a line or at the intersection of two lines of thirds plays an important role in your composition. So try to avoid putting unnecessary or distracting elements at these points.

  • Use leading lines to guide a viewer through an image. If your scene has strong linear elements, you can use them to direct a viewer to certain areas of your scene. Find a perspective that uses compositional lines to lead viewers to important elements like your subject.

  • Fill your frame with elements that are relevant to your message. Try not to include anything that's distracting or aesthetically undesirable. Viewers will examine and ponder whatever's in your frame in order to discover meaning. You should include only the elements that are relevant to your message.

  • Create a focal point that makes sense based on your message. Focus on whatever you deem to be the most important element — the subject — in your scene.

  • Pay attention to the background. Your background should support your subject. In other words, you don't want to photograph Aunt Sallie in front of the restrooms when you could have taken her picture in front of the Louvre simply by changing your angle.

  • Frame your subject. By placing foreground elements at the edges of your frame, you create compositional frames. These frames surround your subject and draw more attention to it.

  • Avoid mergers. Don't let distracting background elements merge with your subject. A merging element can cause the shape of your subject to appear distorted, and viewers generally dislike it. And sometimes it looks downright silly. For example, a photo looks really funny when a street sign in the background rses straight up from a person's head.

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