Rules of Composition

The Rule of Thirds

Most people place the subject of their photograph in the dead center. However, the center is not a pleasing resting place for the eye. The rule-of-thirds is a guideline for off-center subject placement. Imagine that your camera's viewing screen is divided with gridlines that resemble at tic-tac-toe game, then place the subject at one of the intersecting points. (Some digital cameras have the option of displaying this grid on the viewing screen.) This will make for a more aesthetically pleasing photograph. See Figure 1.

Leading Lines

Leading lines are elements in a photograph that lead the viewer's eye to the subject. This could be anything from stairs leading to a person or a river leading to mountains in the background. See Figure 2.


Using natural elements to frame the subject can make for a more unique and interesting photograph. This also helps to draw the eye into the main focal point. Almost anything can be used as a frame; such as doorways, arches, and foliage. However, it's best to use something that makes sense with the rest of the photograph and helps to convey your overall message. See Figure 3.


Mergers are when an object in the background appears to be coming out of the subject. Sometimes these can be funny, but they don't make for good photographs and should be avoided. You also have to look out for tonal mergers. This is when the color of the subject in the photo blends into the background color. Mergers can be avoided by repositioning yourself or the subject. Notice the tree coming out of the person's head in Figure 4.

Simple background

In most cases, the best photographs have simple backgrounds. Photographs with busy backgrounds can be very distracting. If possible, try to reposition yourself so that your subject has a simple background. See Figure 5.


Lighting is an important part of any photograph. There are three types of lighting techniques that make for a more interesting photograph and are easy to do:

1. Silhouettes: This is when you have a dark subject with a bright/light background. See Figure 6.

2. Rim light: This is light that comes from above and behind the subject.

3. Rembrandt light: This is soft beautiful light that partially illuminates the subject. Have the subject facing the light, not away from it. See Figure 5.