The Ultimate Guide to Composition in Photography

jaymes dempsey author

Composition refers to the way you arrange elements in your images, but actually creating beautiful image arrangements can seem like a frustratingly abstract exercise (even to more seasoned photographers).

If you’ve been in the photography space for a while, you may have encountered a few so-called image composition “rules,” yet you might not know exactly how they work or how to use them in your photos. Sometimes you may even start to wonder whether thinking deeply about image arrangements actually matters or whether it’s all just a waste of time.

In this article, I aim to clear up all your confusion and frustration surrounding composition in photography. I start with the basics – what it is and why it’s important – then I share a handful of my favorite techniques for creating effective photos.

I also make sure to include plenty of examples and demonstrations. That way, you can see each technique in action, and you know exactly how to use it to produce amazing images.

Man sitting on a bench by the water looking out at an industrial scene.

What Is Composition in Photography?

Photography composition is all about the way different elements in your images are positioned and how they fit together. Common concerns include:

Ask any professional what matters most in photography, and composition is bound to be in their top five. In fact, for me, it’s probably the most important thing a beginning photographer can master (light is number two, camera settings and technique is number three, and post-processing is number four).

Olympus film camera sitting face up on a black table with a roll of film and a potted succulent in the background.

Composition is often the difference between a stunning photo and a terrible one. But why? What does it actually do for a photo?

Why Does Composition Matter?

By positioning elements in a specific arrangement, you affect the way the viewer experiences the resulting image. For instance, if you fill the frame with your subject, you’ll end up with a powerful, in-your-face image:

Close-up of a green frog with bright red eyes and orange feet perching on a mossy branch.

On the other hand, you can create a peaceful, atmospheric result by including lots of empty (negative) space in your shot.

A red sports court viewed from above with a net in the middle and white surroundings.

These different effects are due to composition. Of course, this begs the question: If different image arrangements bring about different feelings, is there such a thing as a bad arrangement? Or are they all equally good?

It’s something that photographers and artists debate. But there are a few fundamental elements that underlie most great compositions, including visual flow (which moves the viewer throughout the photo and helps them engage with different elements) as well as balance (which ensures that the image feels satisfyingly equal across the entire frame).

That’s where most of the “rules” come from; they’re shortcuts to achieving balance and/or visual flow.

Are There Really Photo Composition Rules?

You’ve probably heard of some popular composition rules, such as the rule of thirds . But as I explained above, these rules are essentially shortcuts that allow you to achieve balance and visual flow. 

So the rule of thirds isn’t actually a rule. Instead, it’s a guideline created to help photographers produce balanced images without spending years struggling to understand how to apply abstract concepts to their photos. The same goes for other image-arrangement “rules” like the rule of odds . Yes, the “rules” generally work, but they’re not ideal for every situation, and you can sometimes create stronger compositions by deliberately violating them.

Therefore, I don’t recommend you think in terms of rules . Instead, think in terms of helpful techniques – approaches that you can put in your photography toolbox and test out when you’re struggling to create an effective image.

A green cactus with yellow needles against a white background.

In other words: There are no rules! But there are helpful tips and tricks, and you can pick and choose how to apply these tips and tricks depending on the photos you want to take.

Common Image-Arrangement Techniques

Photography compositional rules may not exist, but there are plenty of handy techniques that you can use to create more visually pleasing images, such as:

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds states that you should position your main elements a third of the way into the frame, somewhere along these gridlines:

Two horizontal and two vertical green lines demonstrating the rule of thirds technique.

If you were photographing a landscape, you might put the horizon along the top gridline and a mountain pointing up along the right gridline. Alternatively, you could put two vertical elements along each gridline vertical as demonstrated in this photo (where the open doors follow the rule of thirds):

Two white doors open on an apparently empty room with worn wooden floorboards in the foreground.

(Also, the intersections of the rule of thirds gridlines are known as power points and are especially good places to put your main subject.)

The rule of thirds is great for creating balance while preventing images from becoming too static. It’s a guideline that you should always keep in mind when out photographing, but don’t become too reliant on it. (There are times when centered compositions that violate the rule of thirds are actually more powerful!)

By including symmetry in your images , you can create a sense of boldness and power. The symmetry balances out the frame while also really jumping out at the viewer. 

A street with cobblestones and lined with cars underneath stormy clouds.

Note that it’s possible to use many different types of symmetry, including radial symmetry (where your photograph is symmetrical around a central point), vertical symmetry (where your photo is symmetrical across the vertical axis), and horizontal symmetry (where your photo is symmetrical across the horizontal axis). 

Symmetry tends to violate the rule of thirds because symmetrical subjects are often centered. (Remember: It’s okay to break the “rules.”) But you can also use the rule of thirds and symmetry together to create a more unique image:

Metal railings sit atop a concrete structure near an ocean with mountains in the background.

The Golden Ratio

The golden ratio uses a particular number, 1.618, to create visually pleasing, balanced, dynamic compositions, but it comes in a few forms. First, the golden spiral approach uses the ratio to create a pleasing spiral that you can use to position different elements:

The golden spiral drawn in red on a white background.

Second, the golden ratio approach uses a grid overlay to guide your image arranging:

Two horizontal and two vertical black lines crossing on a white background to demonstrate the golden ratio grid.

The golden ratio technique is a lot like the rule of thirds, but it offers a slightly different set of proportions. Both can work well, so I encourage you to experiment with both grid overlays when you’re out shooting.

The Golden Triangle

The golden triangle is an overlay that encourages the use of diagonals as well as triangles to create dynamic, flowing, stable compositions: 

A brown leaf on a forest floor in autumn with a white overlay crisscrossing the scene.

While the golden triangle is less well known than the rule of thirds, you can use it for amazing photos by positioning key elements along the diagonals and the triangles. 

(Pay special attention to the intersection of the lines, where you can often position main subjects to achieve good results.)

The golden triangle can help you create more triangular arrangements, but triangles in general are highly impactful. In my experience, triangular compositions keep images interesting while making sure they feel harmonious, which is generally a good thing! 

A triangular staircase viewed from above and descending downward in black and white.

Note that you can find triangles all over the place, including symmetrical triangles, scalene triangles, and implied triangles. And by including these different triangles in your images, you can create slightly different effects.

All in all, triangles are a great way to ensure your composition is balanced and highly dynamic, so I recommend you incorporate triangles into your shots whenever possible.

Generally speaking, simple arrangements are better than more complex arrangements. This has to do with distractions – the fewer elements you have, the easier it is to keep the shot looking cohesive without including extraneous items. 

That’s why it’s always a good idea to keep the composition as simple as possible. So before taking a shot, ask yourself: Are there any parts that I should try to get rid of? Are there any areas that will take away from the photo, rather than enhance it?

Ideally, every part of an image will contribute to the overall effect, so I encourage you to size up each and every element and decide whether it’s absolutely necessary. By removing extraneous elements, you’ll end up with a much better shot!

Negative Space

Negative space refers to areas of emptiness in a photo, such as a big expanse of grass, sky, or water.

Green grass on a hill against a bright blue sky with wisps of clouds.

And while negative space may feel pointless, it actually plays a huge role in good photos. You see, negative space helps the subject breathe – which makes for a more balanced, harmonious shot overall.

A gray streetlight against a bright turquoise sky.

Plus, negative space can help you create powerful and minimalistic photos, like this:

Two hands reaching down toward the bottom of the frame against a light gray background in black and white.

Of course, you don’t need to always include tons of negative space in your images. But it’s important to add a bit of negative space to each photo – you want to let that subject breathe! – so always keep that in mind before you press the shutter button.

The Rule of Space

According to the rule of space, you should put space in front of a moving subject. In other words: If a subject is moving to the left, put some space off to the left, and if a subject is moving to the right, put some space off to the right.

An older propeller plane with a blue exterior and red stars flying in stormy skies.

The same is true for gazing subjects. If a subject is looking off to the left, put some space off to the left, and if a subject is looking off to the right, put some space off to the right.

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It’s an easy way to make your shots feel more balanced. Wherever the subject is going (either physically or with their gaze), there is space for them to move.

Fill the Frame

To paraphrase (and subtly modify) a famous quote by the photographer Robert Capa: If your composition isn’t working, you may not be close enough.

And while not all scenes benefit from you filling the frame with the main subject, you can often create stronger, more impactful images by really getting close and making sure the subject takes up the whole shot. 

It’s very easy to include distractions in your images – distractions that take away from the overall quality of the shot and make it so the viewer becomes unfocused or confused. That’s why I always recommend you think about whether your shots are sufficiently tight. If there’s a possibility that you should’ve gone closer, then at least test it out to see what you think; sometimes you won’t like the result, but sometimes you’ll end up with a better photo.

A yellow and black butterfly drinking nectar from purple flowers.

Use These Guidelines to Create Amazing Images!

As you can see, composition is an essential part of photography. So it pays to understand what it is and how you can use it to produce beautiful photos.

Just remember that there are no real rules – only techniques. And if you want to improve your image arrangements, make sure you add the image compositional approaches I’ve shared to your photographic toolbox!

Composition in Photography FAQ

How important is composition in photography.

Composition is absolutely essential. With good composition comes powerful, breathtaking images; with bad composition comes bland images that don’t really hold the viewer’s attention.

Are there rules of composition in photography?

Sort of. There are many guidelines, which are often referred to as “rules,” and these are designed to help you position key elements within the frame. Sometimes it’s a good idea to violate the rules, however.

How many rules of composition exist in photography?

There are only a few popular “rules,” including the rule of thirds, the rule of space, and the rule of odds. However, there are plenty more guidelines that can really help your images, such as leading lines, negative space, the value of simplicity, and much more.

What is the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds is a popular compositional guideline, and it suggests that the best photos have key elements a third of the way into the frame.

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jaymes dempsey author

Jaymes Dempsey

2 thoughts on “the ultimate guide to composition in photography”.

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Great help thanks

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Thanks … some good advice.

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Composition in Photography: A Complete (and Modern) Guide

A Post By: Ana Mireles

composition in photography: a complete (and modern) guide

If you’re looking to learn about composition in photography, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, I’ll cover what composition is, and I’ll explain how to use it to make your images eye-catching and unique.

So whether you’re a beginner photographer learning the basics or a more experienced shooter who wants to improve, read on to find out some of the most effective composition tools, concepts, and guidelines available!

What is composition in photography?

Composition in photography refers to the position of elements inside the frame and how they interact with each other.

Ultimately, composition is about the visual structure of your image.

Why is composition important?

The composition of your photograph impacts the way it’s perceived by others. When you choose what to fit inside the frame and what you leave out, where to position each element and so on, you’re capturing a scene with your unique vision.

That’s why it’s important to carefully compose your photos!

Basic techniques and concepts for composition in photography

We are instinctively attracted to images with a good composition.

Because we find them harmonious or interesting!

However, we are not as naturally skilled at creating stunning compositions.

That’s why photographers have developed basic compositional guidelines and concepts that can quickly improve photo compositions – without requiring years of experience.

Starting with:

The rule of thirds

You’ve probably heard about the rule of thirds – or at the very least, you’ve seen it. That’s because most cameras, including the one on your smartphone, have a rule of thirds grid overlay.

The rule of thirds grid is formed by four lines – two vertical and two horizontal – placed at an equal distance from each other and the photo edges (so the frame is divided into thirds).

rule of thirds

But what actually is the rule of thirds?

It’s a guideline stating that you should position compositional elements along your gridlines – and that the focal point of your composition should sit at one of the gridline intersection points.

You can follow this rule in both portrait and landscape orientation, and it works for all types of photography. For example, if you are doing a full-body portrait, you should often place the subject toward one of the gridlines and not in the center.

And when you’re photographing a landscape, you should put the horizon toward the top or bottom third of the image and never in the middle.

Note that the rule of thirds is a guideline, not a true rule . Once you’ve mastered it, I recommend trying to violate it with other concepts – such as symmetry, or with even more complex techniques such as the golden ratio (discussed below).

Leading lines

Leading lines direct the viewer through the image, like this:

leading lines in photography

When you read a text in English, you automatically start at the top left. Then you continue toward the right until the end of the line.

The same thing happens in photography. When we see an image, we also “read” it. Your eye goes from one element to the next – in order to view details and understand the story that’s being told.

That’s where the leading lines come into play: They guide the eye through the image.

Leading lines can be present or implied, and they can be straight or curved. For example, a leading line can be a curvy road getting lost in the mountains. This will compel viewers to follow the road, pulling them into the image.

texture of cloth

Texture is often overlooked as an element of the composition. You can use it to create contrast between two elements – one that is smooth and one that is rough, for example.

You can also use texture to create interesting shapes and leading lines, or to add interest to an otherwise dull subject.

To work with textures, you need to consider the type and direction of the light. A hard light that comes from the side will emphasize the texture. A soft light coming from the front flattens the surface.

color wheel

Color is a key consideration for composition in photography. There are so many color harmonies that you have endless possibilities!

You can use complementary colors to create contrast and make your subject stand out. And you can bring together apparently unrelated elements that are united via a color scheme.

A good way to learn and understand color palettes is Adobe Color . You can use this tool even if you don’t have an Adobe subscription.

Simply select a color wheel with different color harmony rules, such as monochromatic, complementary, etc. You can also upload a photograph to extract the color scheme or gradient. And to stay updated, you can browse trends based on Adobe Stock and Behance.

Use color composition in photography

My favorite tool in Adobe Color is Explore, where you can input a concept or a mood and see the colors that represent it (with multiple examples from the visual arts).

use shapes to compose your photography

As photographers, we’re used to thinking of ways to add depth to a two-dimensional surface.

Because of that, it’s easy to overlook the importance of shapes . Yet when you’re composing your images, you can use shapes to establish a careful arrangement.

Think of a cake being photographed from the top; that’s a circle. If you cut out a slice, then you’re adding a triangle to the composition.

Every shape gives a different feel to our photographs. For example, squares convey stability, while circles make you think of movement and energy.

That’s why posing a group for a corporate portrait usually means forming squares or rectangles, whereas family portraits are often posed in triangles or dynamic shapes.

A good way to practice shape-based composition is by using shadows or shooting silhouettes . That way, you take out any three-dimensionality and focus only on the shape of objects.

Symmetry is defined as something that is exactly the same on both sides, such as a mountain peak or a tree trunk.

And it can work great in art – as long as you use it carefully.

Note that, in art, a scene is rarely 100 percent symmetrical. Instead, you’ll end up with scenes that are almost symmetrical and are well-balanced on both sides.

Like this lake photo:

symmetrical composition in photography

The trees and water aren’t perfectly symmetrical, but they’re close, and the overall scene has a feeling of balance.

Take a portrait as another example. If you photograph a face perfectly centered in the frame, your image will be symmetric. It won’t matter if the subject has a birthmark on one of their cheeks, or that one of their eyes is slightly lower than the other – the symmetry will dominate.

One of the reasons we find symmetry so appealing is because we often find it in nature. And psychologically speaking, symmetry offers a sense of order that makes us feel at ease.

(A great way to play with symmetry in your photography is by shooting reflections or patterns !)

fire burning contrast

Another important concept that can enhance your composition is contrast .

Since we are talking about photography, the first thing that comes to mind is contrasting light, such as low key photography . Here, you capture a very dark image where only a small detail is highlighted (which makes for a highly dramatic result).

However, tonal contrast is not the only type of contrast you can use to improve your compositions. You can also use color contrast (as discussed earlier), juxtaposition , and conceptual contrast (which pairs opposite ideas or aesthetics).

Advanced composition in photography

Once you’ve mastered the basics of composition, it’s time to challenge yourself and move on to more advanced techniques.

Here are some of the most popular tools to consider:

The rule of space

The rule of space tells you to leave space in front of the subject, especially if it’s a moving subject. The idea is that the viewer needs enough room to imagine the subject carrying on the action that it’s performing.

For example, if a duck is paddling away, you would put significant space in front, like this:

rule of space

And according to the rule of space, if you photograph a person who’s running to the right, you should place them on the left side of the frame (and vice versa).

rule of space person walking with a cart

But remember that there’s an exception to every rule, especially when it comes to composition. So if you want to add tension or intrigue the viewer, try violating the rule of space!

The complicated thing about composition is that you must choose to apply or break the rules depending on the message you want your image to convey.

The rule of odds

rule of odds

The rule of odds is based on the principle that people find it more interesting to see odd numbers. While even numbers show stability and work well for symmetric compositions, odd numbers allow the eye to flow through the image.

So according to the rule of odds, you should include odd numbers of items in your compositions.

I recommend you use this rule when it fits the situation, much like you would with shapes. If you want a dynamic composition, you use triangles, diagonal lines, and odd numbers. And if you prefer stability, you can choose straight lines, squares, and even numbers.

In any case, the important thing is to use the rules to your advantage and take control of your compositions.

When you’re shooting food or products, it’s often easier to follow the rule of odds.

But following the rule of odds isn’t as easy when you’re photographing a family of four; you can’t just decide to exclude one of them!

(Though when you’re facing this situation, you can arrange the group so the viewer sees one plus three instead of four.)

Triangular composition

In the first part of the article, I talked about using shapes to compose your images.

But did you know that the most popular shape in composition is the triangle?

You can create triangles with poses in portraits, mountains in a landscape, or a church tower on your travels.

However, if you want to up your game a bit more, you can use golden triangles . This composition technique divides the frame first with a line that connects one corner with the opposite one, then adds two smaller lines coming out from each of the remaining corners.

triangular composition in photography

Ideally, you would place the most important elements of the composition where the lines intersect. To achieve this, you may have to tilt your camera; this is called a Dutch angle (aka the Dutch tilt, German tilt, or Batman angle).

That’s why it’s not always possible to use the golden triangle guideline (or, at least, it’s not always the best choice!).

The golden ratio

The golden ratio is a mathematical term that was later applied to art and eventually photography. It equates to 1.618, and there are two ways it can be applied to photographic composition:

As a grid or as a spiral.

The golden grid (aka the Phi Grid)

The Phi Grid divides the frame into nine blocks, just like the rules of thirds.

However, this grid doesn’t follow a 1:1:1 ratio – which means the blocks are not the same size. Instead, the grid is 1:0.618:1, so you get smaller blocks toward the center, like this:

Phi grid photography

This composition tends to be more natural, as the golden ratio is also found in nature. It also has a better reputation than the rule of thirds, which many consider to be amateurish – a first step that should be quickly outgrown for more complex techniques.

The golden spiral (aka the Fibonacci spiral)

For this composition tool, you should follow a spiral whose growth factor is the golden ratio.

It looks like this (though note that it can begin at any corner of the frame):

golden spiral composition in photography

This spiral is found in natural structures such as sunflowers, pine cones, seashells, etc. You can also find it in many artworks and buildings because many artists have used it throughout the centuries.

To train your eye, you can print or draw a golden spiral, then use it to study the photographs from Irving Penn or Henri Cartier-Bresson , who both used the golden spiral to achieve astonishing results.

composition in photography tulip center

Composition in photography: conclusion

Now that you know most of the popular composition tools, you can use them to dramatically improve your images!

I know it’s a lot of information, but composition in photography will become more intuitive as you get more practice.

My suggestion is to keep it simple at first and practice the tools one by one.

Once you get comfortable with each composition guideline, you can combine them to achieve a more complex result.

And remember:

These are just guidelines you can use as you see fit to find your own artistic vision.

Now over to you:

Which of these composition techniques is your favorite? Which do you plan to use in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Composition in photography FAQs

To emphasize an element in your photograph, you need to draw the viewer’s attention to it. You can use composition techniques, such as leading lines, to achieve this.

No, the rules of composition don’t have a hierarchy. Instead, rules work better in different situations, and the best technique for one photograph can be wrong for the next one.

Yes, these rules apply to all types of photography, including mobile and video. If you want some help getting started, most camera phones have a grid overlay that follows the rule of thirds. You can enable/disable it in the settings section. Alternatively, you can install a camera app that supports different types of grids (such as A Better Camera ).

You can use Lightroom’s overlays to improve the compositions of your photos. To use these, select the Crop tool from the Develop panel. Make sure that the Overlay is enabled. Then press the “O” key to toggle between all the available overlays.

Absolutely! Even though some of them are called rules, they are only guidelines, tools, and techniques to help you achieve better results. There’s always flexibility to experiment. It’s important to know the rules before you break them, though!

Composition in Photography: A Complete (and Modern) Guide

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Ana Mireles

is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here .

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Composition In Photography - 12 Amazing Techniques and Tips

Rohan Arora - Author

What is composition in photography? In the most basic sense, photography composition definition can be said as how you put your subjects into your photo. It is how they are framed in the viewfinder and what you put around them. For example, if you had ten photographers take a picture of the same model in the same location, you would still get ten completely different images. The composition is where the artistry comes from in photography; it is where the human element overtakes the technical.

Even if you have the most expensive, top-of-the-line Hasselblad your photos will be nothing more than snapshots if you don't know the basics of how to compose a photograph. Alternatively, you could be shooting with a decade old smartphone and make stunning works of art with good composition. In other words, it's the composition that makes the photograph.

Before diving too deeply into photography composition techniques, a standard disclaimer must be given. Since photography is an art form, there really aren't any rules. Therefore, please consider these "photography composition rules" as guidelines and learning tools. Yes, rules are made to be broken. But before you can go breaking the rules, you must know what they are and why they exist.

Photography is a visual art . While art appreciation is a separate subject, it is a worthwhile endeavor to study classic art, paintings, and photography , to learn the basics of composition. The composition has been studied and pondered by artists for thousands of years now. Learning the history and the basics of art appreciation will make you a better photographer .

If there is one overarching take away from these photography composition tips, it should be to slow down and make your photographs. Think about the image you want your viewer to see, and think about the movement of their eyes. You want them to take a journey through your photography, and you want them to spend a little while on that trip. The last thing you want is for them to see it and move on.

12 Photography Composition Techniques

Here are the top photography rules, tips, and practices. Remember, these photography rules are made to be broken! Also, remember that some of these concepts can be combined and used together. They are not mutually exclusive.

Rule of Thirds

Photography Composition Techniques

The rule of thirds is the most talked up of the rules of composition and is one of the easiest ways to teach photography composition for beginners. It's not the end-all-be-all rule, but it's a fabulous starting place.

To practice this rule, divide the frame of your photograph with two equally spaced vertical lines and two similar horizontal lines. These lines and the four points at which they meet create areas on your frame for placing subjects and essential elements.

Probably the most important takeaway from the rule of thirds is that subjects generally do not belong centered in the frame. By placing them carefully using the rule of thirds, you can control the final image and the journey your viewer takes through the frame.

The Golden Spiral

The golden spiral is a modification of the golden ratio , or 1:1.6. Greek mathematicians studied the golden ratio over 2,000 years ago, and some believe that the Ancient Greeks used it in the architecture of famous buildings like the Parthenon. It is also found throughout nature, from the spiral of seashells to the arrangement of leaves on plants.

Similar to the rule of thirds, the golden spiral can be applied to your photography by imagining the spiral shape overlayed on your image frame. The curves of the spiral move inward towards your central point of interest. These photos might seem more complicated at first, but they do lead to a visually interesting composition!

Just like the rule of thirds, this rule of composition sets the central subject outside the center of the frame. But the spiral leading to the subject introduces us to another composition style that's very important in photography. The elements that make up the spiral lead our eyes to the subject.

Photography Composition

Once you start looking for them, lead lines are everywhere. A road, a rough footpath, a shoreline, a distant mountain range, the vertical trunks of trees in a forest, or even the arms and legs of a model can all be used in the composition of a photograph. At first, straight lead lines are the easiest to identify and follow. But as soon as you realize that a lead line simply leads your eyes, it becomes clear that even curved lines can get the job done. Leading lines are photography composition basics, which needs to be mastered.

The idea of lead lines is that the photographer arranges these elements in the photograph to lead the viewers' eyes to the subject. Once you know what to look for, you'll see lead lines everywhere.

Do read these articles on photography

Give Moving Objects Space to Move

Best Photography Composition Techniques

When shooting moving objects, be they people, planes, trains, or automobiles, it is preferable to compose your image in a way that gives the object somewhere to go. If the object is leaving the frame, it leaves the viewer with a sense of wonder, "Where is it going?" If you position the elements of a photograph so that it is moving into the frame, you are telling a story.

There's another rule here that should be mentioned. Since we read from left to right, it is most common to place moving objects moving from left to right. You can also accentuate the effect of motion by slowing down your shutter speed and widening your focal length to produce motion blurs . This technique is part of what is known as Bokeh in Photography .


Just like in post-processing, cropping refers to cutting something out. The art of composition is all about cutting stuff out. But know what goes and what stays in the frame is an important line. 

Generally, the goal is to crop distracting elements. Street signs, extra people, or excess cars are examples. All of these things may require the photographer to reposition themselves to better focus on the subject. You can crop photos with almost any photo editor. Smartphones nowadays have inbuilt picture editors to achieve that but if you are looking to explore more photo editing software do check out these alternatives .

Capturing Symmetry

Symmetrical scenes can make beautiful photographs. Think of reflection pools near monuments or calm mountain lakes reflecting fall colors. Likewise, architecture is full of symmetry. In some ways, human brains are programmed to respond to symmetry, so it always makes a captivating and exciting capture.

Symmetrical photos seldom follow the rule of thirds or the golden ratio. More often than not, the horizon bisects the frame equally, and the subject is centered. Sometimes it's okay to break the rules, but only if you realize why it works.

Framed Shots

Frames add a touch of drama and story to any photo. The view out of a window in a lighthouse or the view between large trees in a forest tell more than just the picture of the view itself. Another photo composition example can be garden archways which frame beautiful gardens or the way elaborate brick gates frame the vista of a distant grand mansion. The concept can easily be applied, and it can be combined with symmetry and lead lines too.

Find Balance

Find Balance

Images should have depth. This means that there is a foreground, a middle ground, and a background all clearly present. The subject can be in any of those places, but it's important to balance one with the other. This is especially useful when capturing landscape photography . Too often, the easiest photo to take is a simple snapshot of mountains in the distance. More often than not, these wind up on the editing room floor (an old school term for the delete key).

A better technique to emphasize the distant mountains is to find something interesting nearby to place in the foreground. Maybe a small creek could be in the frame, or perhaps a tree with some character. This is a bit like the last rule of framing things, but in this case, we just need some object in the foreground to give the photo depth. Practicing this can significantly improve your photography composition.

The same rule can be applied in reverse. Say you are taking a photograph at the beach. The ocean goes on and on and doesn't provide much depth to the image. A ship offshore, however, adds some interest and drama. Clouds also make great elements to add interest in the background.

In studio work, backgrounds are usually kept as plain as possible. But there is still something there, something showing that the model or subject is not hovering in space. Background lighting is essential to avoid flat and uninteresting photos.

Balance does not always refer to the foreground and background relationship. It can also refer to the actual subject in the frame. For example, if you're taking a full-length portrait and using the rule of thirds, what is along the other line and filling the other intersection points away from the subject? This would be a good spot for something that helps tell your story, be it a prop or background element.

Odd Numbers Rule

This rule applies to a lot of things, but in photography, it can be distilled down fairly simply. Try to keep things in balance by using odd numbers. Three trees, five people, or seven geese are examples of setups that could make great images. There's nothing very technical here other than the interesting fact that the human eye is attracted to odd numbers, so it makes a more pleasing composition.

Use Negative Space

Negative Space

The negative space in a photograph is the empty bits. These might have empty blue sky or water. Controlling that space can create powerful results. A lot of negative space can provide an openness or a feeling of freedom from the photo. A lack of negative space results in a focused crowding of the frame. Images that fill the entire frame are more intense. It's not a one or the other situation since they both have their place depending on the sort of photo you're trying to capture.

You can also amplify the effect of the negative by using photography props . 

Stock and marketing photographers love negative space because it provides a space for text. This doesn't necessarily make or break the photo, but it's something to think about.

Move Your Feet

Changing your physical position is one of the best photography composition tips you can get. Get the camera down low to the ground, or hold it up over your head. Changing your perspective often changes the entire mood of the photo.

Say it with Color

Color is the topic of entire courses. Painters and graphic designers give careful selection to the color used in their artwork with good reason. Colors invoke moods and emotional reactions, and they communicate with the viewer on a very fundamental level.

Photographers don't always give too much thought to the color used in their photos since they are usually capturing what is already in the scene. But sometimes a scene is so striking that the color stands out and the shutterbug wants to accentuate and emphasize it.

Having a foundational knowledge of color helps. A color wheel is a standard tool found in graphic design studios and every art classroom. It quickly shows which colors can compliment each other or which do not. There are also many apps and websites that offer the same functionality. While the landscape and street photographers might not be able to pick their colors, studio, product, and still life photographers certainly have a level of control over it.

Photography composition for beginners is a learning exercise. These tips and techniques are a starting point. There's certainly more to know and more things to think about, but from here you have the basic idea. The only way to master any art form is to practice it. And the way to practice is to keep in mind these rules and try them through different angles and locations. You will know if a rule is working or not. This will keep you from capturing random pictures quickly, which would be less appealing and take up memory. Now that you know what is composition and what are its types, it's time to go out and write your own story.

The photos you would take after learning these composition techniques have to be showcased somewhere, and what better place than Pixpa; which has dedicated themes for photographers. Sign up for a free trial of 15 days . 


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A flat lay photo of cocktail drinks and ingredients on a table


An overhead view of flat lay photography.

Flat lay images tell stories through the arrangement of objects on a flat surface. Explore these photography tips to help you shoot compositions that are a cut above.

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What is flat lay photography?

“Flat lay photographs are taken from a bird’s-eye view,” says blogger and photographer Heather Barnes. “It’s a top-down perspective of objects laid out on a surface in an aesthetically pleasing way.” This type of  still life photography  is popular on social media and can show everything from a layout of cosmetics to an array of camera accessories.

Use flat lay photos for just about anything.

“Flat lays can present a recipe story, a product story, or a ‘what’s in my bag’ story,” says photographer Doaa Elkady. “It’s a really versatile photography style that people gravitate toward, because it’s such an effective means of storytelling.”

Food photography  is ideal for the flat lay technique because it provides a clear way to show a finished product alongside the ingredients. Product photography flat lays can showcase everything from tech to clothing. And DIY or craft flat lay photos are popular with many bloggers who use it to highlight the different items someone needs to complete a project. 

A flat lay photo of numerous pieces of office equipment and dress around a laptop computer

Flat lay photos connect with audiences.

“It isn’t just people selling things. It’s people showing their audience what their world is like, how they stay organized, what a morning looks like for them, or what they take when they travel,” says Elkady. “Flat lay photography has been a great way for people to get to know the person behind the scenes and the world that they live in.”

Flat lays give the creator complete control over the composition, which means complete control over the message the image sends. With the right setup and some simple props, anyone can try the flat lay style at home. That makes it an accessible photography style, and it makes your content relatable, by showing how anyone with the right ingredients or tools can complete a recipe or project.

Equipment for photographing flat lays.

The most important items you need for flat lay photography include a good source of light and a way to hold your camera steadily above the items you shoot.

Invest in a good tripod.

You can take a flat lay simply by holding your phone or camera over an arrangement of items on the floor. However, it can be a challenge to hold your camera completely still and level. A phone or camera tripod that can face downward with a small bubble level will be a huge help. Alternatively, a C-stand — a type of scaffolding for camera equipment — can hold your camera in addition to lights and other equipment.

If you plan to shoot a large array of items or shoot on a raised surface like a table, you may want to invest in a more high-quality tripod or C-stand that can rise up higher than cheaper options. This will give you enough space to shoot large compositions.

“I’ve found that my clients like those larger scenes with lots of objects and lots of storytelling,” says Elkady. “They can get more out of that image. When you have a larger scene, you’re able to crop it into micro scenes, and the content goes further for the client.”

Get a tethering app or cable.

Control your camera from your laptop or mobile device with a digital tethering app or physical cable. You can then adjust camera settings and see your image results without the need to take your camera off its tripod or C-stand.

A flat lay photo of multiple drinking glasses next to a glass decanter

Photo by Doaa Elkady

Adjust your light.

When possible, set up your flat lay close to a window. The time of day may be a factor in your choice for the shoot depending on the location of your windows. Use a bounce board or reflector across from the window to direct the natural light back toward your setup. A piece of white poster board or foam board can make a great DIY bounce board. Or you can create a  DIY lightbox .

If your windows don’t give you good light, use an artificial light tilted diagonally down toward your arrangement. Soften your light with a diffuser and put a bounce board or reflector across from it to get more even lighting.

Use the right camera lenses and features.

Enable the grid guide on your camera or iPhone and align your most important items on the cross-hairs of the grid. This will help you lay out your composition according to  the rule of thirds . With the right lens, you can capture your entire flat lay without distortion.

“I usually use a 50mm lens,” says Barnes. “Because anything wider than that gets distorted around the edges, and anything closer in, like a 100mm, is just too close up.”

Prepping for great flat lay photos.

The flat lay style is built around a narrative. “I think of my story, and that helps me bring in my supporting elements,” says Elkady. “Then, after defining the materials, textures, and colors that I want, the fun starts and I begin to arrange.”

1. Choose your story.

Decide on a story to tell, and you can elevate a simple shot of objects to a more engaging image. “Say you want to make a flat lay about oatmeal. Think of what else went into the oatmeal and what you do while you eat it,” says Barnes. “Adding a crossword puzzle and a cup of coffee tells more of a story than just a bowl of oatmeal.”

An artistic flat lay photo of a flower and flower petals in a teacup filled with white liquid and surrounded by decorations

Photos by Heather Barnes

2. Find your hero item.

The hero item will be the focal point of your image. Use it as your starting point to build your composition and story. “Your hero should typically be the largest thing in your frame,” says Elkady. “You don’t want to overpower it or have anything else upstage it, because that’s where you want the eye to go.”

3. Add supporting elements, color, and texture.

Flat lay photography gives you complete control over your composition, so you can easily explore different themes. “You’re really able to get creative,” says Elkady. “You’ll want to focus on certain colors or create a scene based on a mood.” Texture plays a big role as well, so try props like fabric, paper clippings or confetti, and other loose materials.

In general, tall objects that look their most interesting from the side won’t make for great flat lay props. If you need to use a tall prop, lift and tilt it toward the camera lens. This can help with perspective and distortion.

Style the perfect shot.

It can be hard to know how to arrange your items. Start with the  basic rules of photo composition , and don’t be afraid to have some of your items peeking partially into the frame. “I like to add in all the items I want to include. And then slowly take them away one at a time, just to simplify it,” says Barnes.

An artistic flat lay photo of a few flowers in a teacup filled with tea and surrounded by decorations

Photo by Heather Barnes

Don’t overcrowd your image.

Look for the right balance between a minimalist scene and a crowded scene. “A common mistake I see is either leaving too much empty space or adding things that don’t need to be there,” says Elkady. “It’s fun to use all your props, but they need to have a purpose and not take away from your subject.”

Explore common layout shapes.

“Shapes guide our eyes naturally, so placing your supporting elements in ways that mimic the shapes in our everyday lives — you can’t go wrong with that,” says Elkady. Use the following layouts as a starting point:

Play with layers.

“Layering is a great way to add visual interest,” says Elkady. “For example, with food, you can layer a plate over another plate or put a dish on a tray. “This creates depth in the image and helps the scene look natural.” Cutting boards, hand towels, sheets of colored paper, or vintage books and magazines can all make wonderful flat lay background layers.

Editing flat lay photography.

From adjusting brightness to adding watermark graphics, photo editing in  Adobe Photoshop Lightroom  and adding elements in Adobe Photoshop can help you bring your flat lay vision to life.

Crop to improve the composition.

Cropping out items fully or partially can be the key to the perfect flat lay image. “I find that it’s important to have some objects only partially in the frame, so it looks like there’s a larger scene going on, and that draws the viewer into it,” says Barnes. 

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom color presets window superimposed over a flat lay photo of oranges falling out of a purple mesh bag

Establish your personal style with presets.

In Lightroom, you can adjust things like exposure, contrast, clarity, saturation, vibrance, shadows, white point, and black point. When you settle on a look you love,  create your own preset  that you can easily apply to your other shots.

Add overlays of text or graphics.

Easily add branding and text in Photoshop. Flat lay images often have room for text and logos, so they can make great backdrops for fliers, postcards, and digital banners for social media and the web.

Dive in and get started.

Take your first steps with this fun photography style and brainstorm to create story ideas and collect inspiration and props. “Moodboards are great,” says Barnes. “And I collect a lot of pieces of ephemera, like scraps of paper or fabric swatches.”

There’s so much room to create with flat lay photography. Follow your imagination and see what story you can tell with a few simple elements.


Heather Barnes ,  Doaa Elkady

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photography composition layout

The 5 rules of design composition and layout

Meg Reid

Everyone knows to get better at any art form, you have to first understand the particular tools and procedures that form it. Design is no different from playing an instrument or even a chef making a meal. If the elements of graphic design (line, color, texture, shape) are the ingredients laid out in front of her and the principles of design (movement, rhythm, proportion, etc) are the recipe she uses to make the meal, then think of design layout and composition as the final plating.

custom cake brochure

Sure, the chef could throw everything into a bowl and call it good. Or, she could arrange the ingredients in a way that highlights the individual elements inside; she can deliver a message in a beautiful package. With time and care, she can create an incredible experience for the person consuming the meal.

Read on to learn more about the many ways you can structure your design compositions to have the showstopping effect of a perfect seven-tiered cake.

The 5 rules of design composition and layout —

1. The grid —

Grids give order to graphic design. They speed up the design process by helping designers decide where content should be placed rather than where it could be placed. - @troytempleman

Most designers see an invisible grid running through all their designs. In modern web design, clean grid lines have become popular and almost impossible to avoid. There are a few simple reasons for this: grids make your designs cleaner, more efficient and easier to adapt.

website grid layout

Grids bring organization not only to the design, but to the process of creating design. Say you want to create a poster for a lecture series. Create a strong grid and if the dates, times, images and colors all change, your basic designs will feel related. Instant consistency and less time updating and adjusting. Baseline grids also give you a great roadmap when working in a team. Every designer knows the feeling of relief that comes with opening someone else’s design and seeing a clear grid to follow!

2. Emphasis and scale —

cake ad

The eye generally needs a place to rest or something of interest to hold it, otherwise people will look at your design and quickly move on. Say you take a photograph of your mom at a family reunion. Your purpose is to bring attention to the moment and the joy of the gathering by making your mom the subject and focal point of your composition.

To communicate the message to the viewer that your mom is the focal point, you want to use scale and emphasis. You could place her prominently in the photograph and make sure she is the largest object in the photo. You could emphasize her by blurring the background to make her stand out or focusing her brightly colored dress.

Figuring out the focal point of the design will give your eye the guide it requires to structure the composition, as well as organically build hierarchy . In the design above the focal point is the ridiculous cake—our eyes go right to it and then read the rest for context.

3. Balance —

web design

Isn’t everything in life a search for balance? Design is no different. Designers must constantly juggle different elements to find harmony in their design. Imagine an invisible set of scales in each design and make sure you don’t tip the scales by cloistering elements on one side of your grid. The website design above does this cleanly by marrying large type elements (“What We Do” “Our Works”) with smaller, equal-sized paragraphs of longer explanatory copy.

Keep in mind that in terms of composition, white space (or negative space) is also an element. White space gives our eyes paths to follow through the design. Give each element on the page some space to breathe and balance between positive and negative space will emerge organically. You can see how moving the elements in the web design above closer together (thus shrinking the negative space and disrupting the balance of the piece) makes the design claustrophobic and ultimately unsuccessful.

4. Rule of thirds —

rule of thirds

The Rule of Thirds is inescapable in design. It’s a fundamental guideline that’s so simple and effective, it often feels like a cheat: divide your design into three rows and three columns. The points where the vertical and horizontal lines meet form natural guidelines for where you should place your subject and supporting elements. Struggling with finding balance in your designs? The Rule of Thirds is about to become your best friend.

rule of thirds

For the most clear examples, look at photographs. In the example above, the focal points (the tree and horizon) are perfectly aligned with the grid created by the Rule of Thirds. If the tree was dead center horizontally and the mountains were directly in the vertical center, the composition would not be so pleasing.

5. Rule of odds —

logo design

The Rule of Odds says that pleasing compositions seem to often have an odd number of elements placed in the foreground, most commonly three. The two objects on the outside both balance the focal point in the center, creating a simple, natural balance. (If you’re a wedding photographer this is probably the most difficult rule to follow.) This is often true in logo design, where a centered mark might be offset on either side by the company name, like in Needle Records’ logo.

The power of a well-composed design

This is just an overview of the different ways a designer can shape a composition to have the greatest impact on viewers. As always, remember that rules are meant to be broken. But once you start understanding and executing these rules and structures in your own work, it will improve and strengthen your designs immeasurably.

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7 Basic Principles of Graphic Design Foundations: Composition and Layout

7 Basic Principles of Graphic Design Foundations: Composition and Layout

What sets apart a good design from a great one? The devil is in the details. As with any other skill, like driving or cooking, for example, it’s important to master the basics first. You wouldn’t drive into heavy traffic on your first time behind the wheel, right? Similarly, when we talk about graphic design, the foundations of the trade are composition and layout. These graphic design basics are the building blocks of creating stunning visuals. In this post, we’ll walk you through the key layout and composition principles and how to incorporate them into your designs!

Graphic Design Basics – Composition and Layout

Before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at what composition and layout mean:


Composition means “putting together”. In graphic design , a successful composition is where all the separate elements come together to form a whole design.

A layout refers to the arrangement of elements on a page. The practice of arranging these elements is called “layout design”.

Related: Design Terms: A Must Read for Beginners!

Why are Composition and Layout Important?

Whether you’re designing a book cover or an Instagram story, it’s not enough to have a great idea. Humans are visual creatures. We make immediate connections and assign meaning to visual information. If what we’re looking at doesn’t hold our attention, we lose the plot – literally.

The Science Behind Visual Connections

Why Composition and Layout Matter


For instance, in the image above, notice how Apple communicates its product’s story through design.

7 Layout and Composition Principles in Graphic Design

If you’re a newbie in the world of design, these rules will serve you well in creating stunning visuals. If you’re already a maestro, use them to brush up on your knowledge of graphic design basics.

1. Alignment

Alignment is the position of a design’s individual elements in relation to each other. It also refers to the placement of design elements along the top, bottom, sides or middle of a page. The way you choose to align your elements determines the success of your design’s composition.


For example, take a cue from the world-renowned fashion magazine, Vogue. The small text is justified to the left, leaving just enough room for the large text to fit into the indent. Notice how the composition uses simple, solid colors mirroring the model’s outfit.

If you’re new to design and don’t know how and where to start, read Simplified’s guide on smart alignment for powerful, well-adjusted visuals!

2. Focal Point

This section of graphic design basics takes its inspiration from photography. For instance, if you’re composing an online ad for pet food, the focal point will be your product. You’ll also want to add something that communicates your brand’s message. For example, a happy dog like Pedigree has done below:


The focal point in design, also called the emphasis, is strongly intertwined with visual hierarchy. When designing, ask yourself this – where do I want my audience to look first?

3. Visual Hierarchy

Visual hierarchy in design refers to arranging elements from most important to least important. The most important element in your design will instantly grab your audience’s attention. For instance, an end-of-year sale in big, red block letters. Then, your design should help them visually navigate the others elements in decreasing importance. For this reason, elements can gain or lose emphasis through subtle but effective design tweaks. These include, but are not limited to:

For example, Michigan Creative has created a wonderful tell-all design to advertise their services:


4. Balance and Symmetry

When it comes to composition and layout in design, you’ll never strike out after reading this. Did you know that not only are we visual creatures, but our DNA craves balance?

We are hard-wired to find symmetry because it exists in the natural world.

For instance, a snail’s shell is a self-similar object, repeating itself, smaller and smaller, and at all scales. This is commonly known as the golden ratio, the proportions of which are found in the Mona Lisa and the Pyramids of Giza.


We need balance and symmetry in design because it calms our tensions about visual chaos. Furthermore, if you want your design to communicate power and strength, achieving the right balance in design is paramount.

Twitter’s logo is a good example of a design that conforms to the proportions of the golden ratio:

Twitter logo explained

5. Negative Space

Also called “white space,” negative space doesn’t necessarily imply colorlessness or emptiness. In fact, negative space adds to your design by subtracting from it. What does this mean?

For one, the empty areas of your design can give your composition space to breathe. This means that you can avoid visual chaos and clutter by purposefully leaving blank spaces.

For example, look at Batman’s eyes under the M. The negative space below the letters also serves as the top part of his suit. Pretty neat, right?

Want to learn more? Hop on over to Simplified to read about the power of negative space!


Related:  Grids in Graphic Design: 4 Types, Examples, 5 Tips + FREE Tool Inside!

6. Color Contrast

The contrast panel is a graphic designer’s best friend. By boosting or reducing the color contrast of your elements, you can either highlight or hide them. The best way to do this is to take a step back and look at your work as a whole. Ask yourself what you want the viewer’s eye to focus on. Once you know that, simply increase or decrease the contrast between that element in relation to the design. This is especially important to make designs that are colorblind-friendly.


7. Complementary Design Elements

This may not come as a surprise, but not all your favorite elements will work together as a cohesive composition. When choosing elements for your design project at hand, carefully pick each one. There are several ways to choose complementary design elements:


Take a cue from LUSH UK above, and notice the beautifully shot photographs in the same color palette.

Related: The Rule Of Thirds Beginner’s Guide To Enhance Your Graphic Design

In Conclusion

We may have reached the end of your graphic design basics journey, but this isn’t goodbye! Simplified is an all-in-one design platform where you can play around with composition and layout to make your designs better than ever! You can also edit photographs, apply filters, tweak colors, and so much more on Simplified AI . Give it a try today!

One Free app to design, collaborate, and scale your work – try Simplified today.

Shubham Kulkarni

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  1. The basics of photography composition | Adobe

    Photo composition is how a photographer arranges visual elements within their frame. “It’s a pleasing organization of objects within your rectangle,” says photographer Adam Long. Putting subjects or scenes inside that space may sound easy, yet it’s anything but. Composition in your shots can often be difficult and it’s always important.

  2. The Ultimate Guide to Composition in Photography - PhotoWorkout

    Photography composition is all about the way different elements in your images are positioned and how they fit together. Common concerns include: Where should you put your subject in the frame? Should you include two people or three people? Should you include a lot of the sky or a lot of the foreground? Should you cut off a person’s limbs?

  3. Composition in Photography: A Complete (and Modern) Guide

    Composition in photography refers to the position of elements inside the frame and how they interact with each other. Ultimately, composition is about the visual structure of your image. Why is composition important? The composition of your photograph impacts the way it’s perceived by others.

  4. 12 Photography Composition Techniques to Take Eye ... - Pixpa

    In the most basic sense, photography composition definition can be said as how you put your subjects into your photo. It is how they are framed in the viewfinder and what you put around them. For example, if you had ten photographers take a picture of the same model in the same location, you would still get ten completely different images.

  5. Flat lay photography: A beginner's guide - Adobe

    Enable the grid guide on your camera or iPhone and align your most important items on the cross-hairs of the grid. This will help you lay out your composition according to the rule of thirds. With the right lens, you can capture your entire flat lay without distortion. “I usually use a 50mm lens,” says Barnes.

  6. The 5 rules of design composition and layout - 99designs

    Rule of odds. 1. The grid. —. Grids give order to graphic design. They speed up the design process by helping designers decide where content should be placed rather than where it could be placed. - @troytempleman. Most designers see an invisible grid running through all their designs.

  7. Composition and Layout Rules in Graphic Design | Simplified

    In graphic design, a successful composition is where all the separate elements come together to form a whole design. Layout A layout refers to the arrangement of elements on a page. The practice of arranging these elements is called “layout design”. Related: Design Terms: A Must Read for Beginners! Why are Composition and Layout Important?