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Learning Composition

July 29, 2008 - Dave Hecei
One of the first things to learn in mastering photography is composition. Painters have studied composition and it's just as important for photographers. Probably the most well know compositional rule is the ‘rule of thirds’.

Composition helps make an image, whether it’s a painting or a photograph, have balance and captivate the viewer. There are several rules to help with composition, but following this rule will make for a stronger image.

The rule of thirds is quite simple. Take the scene you are shooting and break into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Think of a tic-tac-toe grid. Two lines running across and two running up and down the image. In this grid are four points where the lines intersect. These four points are where you want to place your subject or subjects, or points of interest.

These lines are also useful for lining up the horizon. For a more powerful image, you want to have the horizon near or on one of these lines. Having the horizon cutting across the exact middle of the frame is considered weak, unless the main point of interest falls on one of the intersect points. Also, you want to have the horizon level, not leaning to one side or the other.

Some digital point-and-shoot cameras, and even some DSLRs, can actually display this rule of thirds grid right on the LCD display. This can make it easy to frame a scene and help keep the horizon level. There is nothing I hate worse than a great picture of a lake that looks like all the water is draining off to the side of the photo.

Next time you’re out taking pictures, try to start thinking about the rule of thirds. Check out the manual for your camera to see if you can display this grid pattern. Think about the points of interest in the scene and how to make them more balanced by placing them in one of the four intersect points.

A great way to experiment is to go through some of the shots you have already taken and try cropping them in Photoshop, or whatever editor you use. Use the rule of thirds to place the subject or points on interest in one of the four spots and see how the look of the photo changes.


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Rule of Thirds grid with intersects marked.