ARTISTIC COMPOSITION RULES
What is Composition in Photography?
Composition refers to how your subject and other elements of the scene are arranged. Composition is core to your photo — it is your photo’s story. Composition rules are guidelines for arranging the subjects and elements in the scene to coordinate with how our eyes and brains work to understand the photo. The thrill of composition is identifying how the additional elements in the scene can support your main subject to create a beautiful photo that tells a story.
Subject and Elements
There are infinite possibilities for photo subjects. Your subject could be the peak of a mountain, a fishing boat landed on the edge of a beach, a flower in a vase, or a loved one. Additional elements in the scene can support your main subject, for example, a river in the foreground that supports the mountain peak, the curvature of the beach shore that supports the fishing boat, or a table and window that support the flower in the vase or the loved one.
The Wise Camera app and the Wise Photos app display composition rules visually as red guiding lines on the screen for aligning the subject and elements of the scene. Each composition rule will guide you in the optimal positioning of the subject and elements in the scene using the red guiding lines.
Align the Scene
When using the Wise Camera app and Wise Photos app, you will see the red guiding lines for the selected composition rule superimposed on the scene. The next step is to align the subject and supporting elements of the scene with the guiding lines per the instructions for the selected rule.
Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is one of the most useful composition rules in photography. Two horizontal and two vertical lines divide your composition into three equally spaced vertical columns and three equally spaced horizontal rows.
To apply this rule, place the main subject and supporting elements of your scene at the intersection of two lines or along a line.
By placing the main subject and supporting elements away from the center forces the viewer's eyes to follow it, adding action and interest, as opposed to a static focus on the center of the photo. In addition, the background will be less obstructed, providing more space for the viewer’s eyes to comfortably rest and explore the photo more interactively.
Symmetrical images look the same on one side as the other, and they can provide a nice break from the rule of thirds.
To apply this rule, divide the composition into two equal parts, horizontally or vertically, which are mirror images of each other. You can also break the symmetry or pattern in some way to introduce tension and a focal point to the scene.
The Phi Grid is similar to the Rule of Thirds, but the horizontal and vertical lines are moved slightly inward to align with the Golden Ratio that is often seen in nature. This creates visual harmony that isn’t perfectly symmetrical with roughly 3/8ths of the frame in the upper part, 2/8ths in the middle, and 3/8ths at the bottom.
To apply this rule, place the main subject and supporting elements of your scene along a line or at a point where the lines intersect to create a dynamic focus for the viewer.
Because the intersecting lines are closer to the middle of the frame in the Phi Grid, the foreground can have more impact in the photo, and in some cases, like horizons, the Phi Grid can provide a more pleasing composition than the Rule of Thirds.
NOTE: The Phi Grid composition rule is based on the Fibonacci ratio of 1.618, which might not be the same ratio as your photo.
The Golden Ratio used in the Phi Grid, can also be used to generate the Fibonacci Spiral. This pleasing spiral is common in nature and useful in photo composition, especially for landscapes and wide shots.
To apply this rule, place the main subject of your scene at the smallest part of the spiral and supporting elements along the spiral to lead the viewer around the image in a natural flow.
Tap the screen to move the spiral.
NOTE: The Fibonacci Spiral composition rule is based on the Fibonacci ratio of 1.618, which might not be the same ratio as your photo.
Golden Triangles split the frame into three triangles and provide a guide when the composition includes strong diagonal elements.
To apply this rule, place the main subject inside one of the triangles or at the intersection of the guiding lines. Place diagonal supporting elements along a guiding line.
Tap the screen to move the triangles.
NOTE: The Golden Triangles composition rule is based on the Fibonacci ratio of 1.618, which might not be the same ratio as your photo.
You can use a Vanishing Point in your photos to emphasize the distance of a landscape, the height of buildings or trees, or the depth of a canyon. When the Vanishing Point is inside the frame, the perspective is more dramatic. When it is outside the frame, the lines become more parallel and the effect is less dramatic. Zoom out to increase the perceived scale or zoom to reduce the effect.
To apply this rule, identify the converging lines in your scene and align them with the red guiding lines.
Tap the screen to move the vanishing point.
Adding depth to a composition adds interest for the viewer. Depending upon your subject and goal, you can create depth in a composition by placing the subject of the scene in the center and adding foreground elements around the sides. You can also employ natural and man-made frames such as trees, arches, windows, and doors.
To apply this rule, frame the main subject in the background with supporting foreground elements around the sides.
Zoom in and out to optimize the balance between your foreground and background elements.
Introducing elements to a photo in progressively receding layers adds depth to a photo that creates interest and draws the viewer into the scene dynamically and naturally. This is an ideal technique for landscapes with a visible horizon.
To apply this rule, frame the scene with interesting nearby objects in the lower portion of the photo and additional elements that are progressively further in the distance as you move up the frame. Tap the screen to move the horizon line.
Leading Lines create a path for the viewer’s eye, drawing their attention to the main subject of the composition, or the Leading Lines can be the subject of the scene itself. Common Leading Lines include rivers, roads, fences, and seashores. Leading Lines do not need to be straight, they can be curved. For example, the meandering curve of a river can naturally guide the viewer’s eye through a valley scene to the photo’s main subject.
To apply this rule, find and arrange the elements in your scene to create a path that leads toward the subject or is the subject of the photo.
Lines and Patterns
Repeating lines and elements can create striking compositions by harnessing the brain’s natural attraction to patterns. Something that might be overlooked becomes interesting when it is framed to highlight the pattern. Vertical repeating lines portray a mood of confidence, permanence and height, like trees and tall buildings, while horizontal lines tend to promote calm and relaxation, like horizons and gentle waves. Including an interruption to the pattern can create an element of surprise that keeps the viewer’s eye moving back and forth around the photo.
To apply this rule, identify repeating lines or patterns in the scene and align them to the vertical or horizontal guiding lines. Tap the screen to rotate the guiding lines
Fill the Frame
Filling the frame with your subject adds impact to your photos by removing unnecessary clutter from the background. At first, you may have to fight the urge to include every part of your subject, but it is okay, and sometimes optimal, to cut off parts of your subject. For example, getting in really close and just shooting a person’s face gives a dramatic effect. The larger subject in the photo increases its detail, which can reveal the character of the subject, highlight patterns, and encourage the viewer’s curiosity.
Remember the other composition rules when filling the frame. You can apply Rule of Thirds, Phi Grid, Golden Triangles, and others to organize the remaining elements of your subject in the scene.
To apply this rule, get close to your subject by walking or zooming in until your subject completely fills or expands out of the frame. As you move in, be mindful of your subject and the elements you are removing. Remove elements that don’t add to the story you want to tell. As an experiment, after you’ve composed and taken the photo, take another step or two towards your subject, compose another photo, and compare the impact of each. Tap the screen to move the guiding lines.
The Negative Space rule encourages you to minimize the size of your subject in relation to the background. Negative space is the area around the subject in the scene, and when applying this rule, it should take up more of the scene than your subject. Although it may not be intuitive, this has the effect of drawing the viewer’s attention to your subject. Using negative space, you can create quiet photos with feelings of solitude, relaxation, and contemplation.
The guiding lines indicate the negative space, areas to simplify by removing elements and blending colors and lighting. The negative space doesn’t need to be a completely blank area. Things can be happening, but they should blend in the background and not distract from the subject.
To apply this rule, slow yourself down and look at the area surrounding your subject. Move around your subject to find a point of view that isolates the subject from the background. Tap the screen to move the guiding lines.
The Dynamic Symmetry rule is designed to promote flow, rhythm, and balance within your photos. The grid uses 6 diagonal and reciprocal lines to help you convey motion and build action, and 4 horizontal and vertical lines to help you provide places for the viewer to rest. Dynamic Symmetry is well suited to street photography, as it helps you find interesting subjects and colors along dominant diagonals to lead the viewer’s eye around the frame while keeping the piece balanced.
To apply this rule, align your subjects and the landscape with the diagonals on the grid or parallel to the grid lines. Try to capture elements along multiple diagonals to add a sense of movement to the scene with flow and rhythm, and if you want to create a calmer scene, use the horizontal or vertical gridlines.
When starting out with Dynamic Symmetry grids, it is easy to be confused by the numerous lines, so the composition rule starts with 2 corner to corner diagonals and allows you to layer the reciprocal, horizontal, and vertical lines at your own pace. Tap the screen to add the next layer of grid lines.
Break all the Rules
Once you are familiar with the rules, take some photos without the guiding lines. Perhaps you want to move your subject to an extreme position, like closer to an edge of the frame or through another element of the scene. Give yourself some freedom to explore and have fun with the subject and other elements.