3 Photography composition rules to improve your photos

Photography composition rules tulips at sunset

Photography comes down to mainly two things: light and composition. This is of course a simplification, but I think these are the most important topics.
In landscape photography, and even less in wildlife photography, we do not have complete control over the light. We can increase our chances of having ‘better’ light when going out to take photos during the golden hour (around sunrise and sunset). For me this is also the beauty of landscape photography, light is different all the time.
Composition we do have control over however and I would like to share 3 tips with you to create compelling compositions. Remember all these tips are not rules even if we call them that, they are mere guidelines. It is important to know how to use them though.

Composition is how we arrange the subjects in our photo. While this seems easy at first sight, this is actually the most difficult part of photography. But with a little help and practice everyone can train their photographer’s eye.

1. The rule of thirds

Especially when starting with photography you should know about the rule of thirds. Your frame is divided in 9 even rectangles by dividing your frames with 2 horizontal and two vertical lines. This guideline says you should place your main subject on one of the intersections and not in the middle of your photo. Your camera can probably can show the grid lines on the screen before taking the photo. This makes it easy to compose correctly.

The rule of third applied to the solitary tree. The tree is on the intersection of two lines, which results in a harmonious composition

I took this photo in Tuscany in spring when the canola was blooming among the tall grass. The tree is placed on the intersection of the grid lines. When photographing a landscape, you can place the horizon on one of the horizontal lines. If you place the horizon on the top line you emphasize the foreground. If you place the horizon low, you accentuate the sky as this occupies most of the photo now, like in the photo above. In the title photo it was all about the flowers, so here there’s very little sky.

In the photo below this guideline was applied to wildlife photography.

A warthog in Pilanesberg NP, South Africa. You can see the intersection is right between the eyes..

2. Rule of odds

When you have similar subjects in your photo then it’s better that the number of these subjects is odd, not even. With an even number the brain has difficulty in choosing the most important subject (it wants to choose the most important one for some reason…), so it’s better to have 3 or 5 subjects than 2 or 4. If you photograph a bunch of flowers there’s no need to count them of course, this works mainly for small numbers, let’s say less than ten.

Three is better than 2 or 4… most of the time

Three tulips with the one in the centre in focus. This is a classical example of the rule of odds. Here it is clear which one is the most important, it’s almost like a podium with the centre flower being a bit bigger.

In the next photo the rule of odds is applied, but it is maybe less clear at first sight than the previous photo. These three houses in Bo-kaap, Cape Town repeat each other, but are clearly distinguished by their colours.

Rule of odds three houses in three colours in cape town south africa
The rule of odds with three houses in three different colours

3. Leading lines

As the name says these lines lead the eye into the frame. This can be a road, a walkway, a little stream. It can be a straight line or curved. Just keep your eyes open and you might see lines in many places. Usually it also helps to create depth. Don’t be afraid to place your camera very low to the ground. This often helps the lines to converge in one point.

The layers of rock create lines that lead the viewer though the frame

In the photo above the layers in the rock create the lines that lead you from the foreground to the background. In the next photo a classical example of leading lines with a path leading though the fields early in the morning in Tuscany.

Country road in Tuscany

What rule did we apply for the title photo? Any idea?

During our tours and workshops we will give you tips like this in the field, so you will see the result immediately. This way it is not just theory, but you can put in practice what you’re learning. You will enjoy it more, and best of all, you’re spending time outside in beautiful Nature.

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