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7 Simple Composition Rules

  • 7 Simple Composition Rules

What is composition? Composition is the art of organizing elements within the viewfinder so the main subject stands out, creating a balanced and pleasing arrangement. A good sense of composition is essential to being a photographer. Money may buy you the best gears available, but it is the mastery of composition that makes a photographer great. Some talented photographers were born with the ability to compose stunning photos; for others, it may take years to master the art of composition.

Although composition is a matter of opinion, there are a few agreed-upon rules that are commonly used by photographers worldwide. These rules are easy to follow, and can be combined to achieve even more stunning results. They are also useful to non-photographers, too. Even if you don’t own a SLR or DSLR, you can still apply some of these rules when taking pictures with your point-and-shoot cameras or smartphones. Below is a list of composition rules I selected:

  • Rule of Thirds – The frame is divided into imaginary thirds along the horizontal and vertical edges, and the main subject is placed at the intersection of the lines that form these thirds. You may also align the more visible linear elements with one of the imaginary line if there is no obvious, single main subject.
Rule of Thirds
  • Diagonal Line – An imaginary diagonal line is drawn across the frame, and the most visible linear element in the frame, such as the edge of an object or the full body length of the model, is aligned with the diagonal lines.
Diagonal Line
  • Leading Lines – Because our eye naturally follows along lines when we see them, you may draw viewers’ attention to specific subject by leading them with lines. Lines are formed with linear elements such as rooflines, a series of lights on the side of the street, or the side of the buildings.
Leading Lines
  • Contrast – The main subject is contrasted against the background or another subject either in color, brightness, or size.
  • Symmetry – As the name suggests, the image must be symmetrical either horizontally or vertically.
  • Framing – Portion of the frame is intentionally occupied by secondary elements, blurs or shadows while leaving a window where the primary subject is visible. This technique forces viewers to shift their attention to the one single subject.
Mirror Mirror
  • Texture – The emphasis is placed on the surface texture rather than the subject itself.

These rules should be useful to you. However, you must understand that some of these rules are not meant for every situation, and forcing these rules on certain situation may adversely affect your photos. As you practice and accumulate experiences, you’ll learn what rules are best suited for which situation, and it’ll become a second nature to you. I would like to see you try at least one of these rules the next time you take a picture. Please share your experience with us by leaving a comment below.


  • Jeff Urmston

    This is brilliant! Thank you Kevin. I like to believe I have a good design sense. Except, somehow, when looking though a lens that gets tossed out. I'll keep checking back here for your great tips.

    • Kevin Chan

      Thanks, Jeff, I'm glad you find the tips useful. If I find any more useful knowledge I'll be sure to share them!

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