Composition in Photography: Design Elements Part II

This is the continuation and concluding part of my previous article that described the two design elements of composition in details:

I. Choosing the subject
II. Choosing the environment to compliment the subject

You can read the first part of the article here:

Now that you have selected a subject and complimenting background, let’s get to the “positioning” part.

III. Position the subject

The famous (Thumb-)Rule of the Thirds is so important to follow ( and to break elegantly ) that it is worth mentioning yet one more time in this article.

Position the subject (chosen in Step I) in the environment (chosen in Step II) at 1/3rd distance from the left or right of the viewfinder edge horizontally and 1/3rd distance from top or bottom of the viewfinder edge vertically.

I think a diagram will be more useful here:

Composition Tips

You can see I have divided the viewfinder into 9 blocks. The simple thumb rule says that blue area is the sweet spot for placing the subjects. The intersection is the “sweetest”.

Here are few detailed guidelines for different types of subjects –

i. Objects (trees, rocks, focused part of any bigger subject) – at V1H2, V2H2, H1V2 and V1H1.

ii. Portraits (eyes at H1H1)

iii. Horizons at either H1H1 or H2H2

iv. Vertical or Horizontal elongated subjects like trees or bridges at V2V2

The negative Rule of Third says dead center is deadly – avoid placing the subject in the centre of the frame and avoid letting the horizon divide the photo into two equal halves.

And now for a few example photos:

Composition Tips

Composition Tips

If you are not able to get the subject into that sweet spots for whatever reason, crop in post-processing to achieve the same effect. But do remember cropping and enlarging might reduce the overall quality of the photo (may not be noticeable when viewed on computer screen or smaller dimension prints).
Hence cropping at source is always recommended. Finally even if you keep the subject(s) near the intersection of the lines, that will still be better than dead-centering.

Next you should align the frame edges with the subject’s orientation. Of course you can always post-process and rotate the photo slightly if required.

You can position the subject such that imaginary lines either converge or diverge from the subject. The line can even be curved or lead towards the centre of interest. This will add a dynamic impact to the photo.

Here’s an example photo:

Composition Tips

Frame edges can be respectfully avoided for positioning the center of interest, this leads to limiting the eye movements of the viewers only at the edge of the frame.

For action shots, it is advisable to keep a space in front of the moving subject to give a sense of motion, and future position of the subject thus providing anticipation as well.

Try different height, please. Do not shoot at your shoulder height. We are so bored seeing the whole world at our own eye levels, that we need fresh angles to look at objects that normally we don’t try. Try lying down, crouch, get a higher vantage point (hill, table, 10th floor).

Also one aspect of positioning is to try to fill the above frame with most of the subject’s area so that you get a closer, tight look of the subject. This specially looks good with nature and wildlife where we have little scope to be actually that close to the subject in our everyday life.

IV. Breaking the above rules

Of course some of the most stunning pictures break the above ‘rules’. And you must be totally familiar with the above rules in order to identify the opportunity where you can break them elegantly.

No rules can guarantee a well-designed photograph. If “nice looking” photos do not come to you intuitively, the above “rules” will definitely help you improve the results by increasing the visual appeal of your photos.

But we must remember that we must not become a servant and blind follower to the above rules which will lead to “boring” predictability which I had discussed in Part I of this article.
Here’s an example where I have centered the subject but still the photo manages to keep interest in the viewers. Actually I tried to crop it place the couple at the thirds but it looked somewhat contrived that way.

There’s one exception to the rule of the third’s though. In case of reflections, do let the line divide the photo into equal halves to emphasize the quality of reflection by mirroring.

V. Miscellaneous Tips

Here’s few standalone tips that will help you enhance the scene on your photo.
When you are shooting something with great height like canyons, valleys or cliffs and you want to emphasize the height, shoot vertically.

You can repeat visual elements of the subject throughout the photo. Repetition can be in form of color, texture or shapes.

That concludes my article on Composition in Photography. To summarize, I discussed on the following 4 elements –

I. Choosing the subject
II. Choosing the environment to compliment the subject
III. Positioning the subject
IV. Breaking the rules

My last words in this concluding part of the article are directly taken from Ansel Adams:

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” – Ansel Adams

Talk to you soon,


2 Responses to “Composition in Photography: Design Elements Part II”

  1. Bhima Prasad Maiti says:

    A useful ,practical and well illutrated article.I am benefitted.Thanks.

  2. I have just started learning a photography course, the above described tips are a great help for me. Thanks

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