Photography Composition Rules
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 5 min read

Learning photographic composition rules is the key to becoming a good photographer. Knowing and understanding the technical aspects of working a camera and editing photos is important, but let’s be real: anyone can take photos. Knowing how to frame your subjects and compose a single photo to tell a whole story, however, is what truly sets apart the photographer from the person-who-,takes-photos. Read on for a complete breakdown of everything you need to know to compose the best photos.

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What is Photographic Composition?

Composition, in photography, refers to how the elements or subjects within a photo are arranged. A photo can have many subjects or elements, or as few as one. Either way, knowing how to frame and compose is essential to take a good photo. How the photographer arranges the elements or subjects within the frame of the photo is what makes the photograph interesting or eye-catching to a viewer. This is true whether or not the viewer consciously realizes it. When using the rules of composition, you control where the viewer’s eyes will be drawn.

Photographic Composition

Composition is how you, as a photographer, can tell an entire story in just a single photograph.

Learn More: What is focal length

Elements of Composition in Photos

There are many elements of composition in photography, many of which are highly debated. The main elements to consider when composing a photograph, however, are lines, points, shapes, textures, color, tone, distance, balance, space, and patterns.

A point is an area of interest. It could be a vanishing point on the horizon where all or most of your lines converge, or it could simply be the subject of the photo.

Lines are used to drawing your viewer's eyes to the point.

Shapes and textures are used to make the photo full and interesting or to elicit a response from the viewer.

Color and tone are also important in this way, even if your photo is black and white. It is helpful to have a basic understanding of the color wheel and how colors compliment and interplay with each other to help with this aspect of your composition.

Distance refers to the space between subjects of the photo, while space refers to how that space is utilized.

Balance refers to how the subjects in the photo are placed. For example, do you have a very busy quadrant of the photo with the other three quadrants full of negative space? Consider adjusting the framing.

The last element we will discuss here involves patterns. Our eyes are drawn to patterns, so when you create a photograph full of patterns or a subtle repetition, the more likely you are to draw viewers in. When you consciously control all of these elements in a photo, you can influence where the eye of the viewer is attracted.

Elements of Composition

Rules of Composition

There are many so-called rules of composition in the world of photography. This can be both good and bad news for the beginner, as there is no set standard number of rules to adhere to, but that also means there is less of a structured framework to learn from. Here, we have broken down the rules of composition to just five, using the elements we learned about above.

Using Leading Lines in Photographic Composition

Leading lines draw the viewer's attention toward a singular point or subject within the photo. Your photo can have literal geographic lines in it, such as a road or rows on buildings, or you can play with light and shadow to create subtle lines that will draw your viewer in just the same.

The Horizon Line Rule

Not every photo needs a horizon line, of course, but you will want to keep this in mind for any type of landscape or landscape-style photo. Your leading lines should lead the eye to the horizon line. Also, your point of interest is usually going to be at the horizon line as well. The horizon line should fall at either ⅔ of the way up the photo, or ⅔ of the way down the photo (more on this ratio later).

Use Patterns and Textures in Photography Composition

As we discussed before, patterns and textures are also inherently visually interesting and will attract viewers to your photo. Likewise, you can tell a story using just patterns and textures. Use complementary colors and contrasting textures to create a rich tapestry within your photo.

Negative Space in Photographic Composition

Negative space refers to the space around or between subjects in your photo. Most beginners are taught to “fill the frame” when learning about the composition of a photograph. However, utilizing lots of negative space can be just as artistic and create a visually stunning and stimulating visual image.

The Rule of Thirds in Photography

The rule of thirds is one of the oldest and often cited as the most important, rule of photographic composition. This rule involves imagining two sets of lines running through your framing. One set runs from left to right and the other runs from top to bottom. This creates four intersections or meeting points and divides the whole frame into nine equal boxes. This rule is based on the concept that the human eye is instinctively drawn where these lines intersect and, therefore, these are the points at which you should place subjects of points of interest in your photographs.

Making Stylisting Choices and When to Break Photography Composition Rules


As mentioned before, these are not hard and fast rules that you must adhere to or risk ruining your photos. They are, however, very useful tools for setting up engaging and visually interesting photos. There are many times you may find yourself intentionally throwing some of these rules out, and other times you should lean on them.

For example, you won’t be using horizon lines and vanishing points in portrait photography. The rule of thirds, however, can prove extremely useful when taking landscape photos that you want to appear full of life and movement, instead of flat or one-dimensional. Taking a class or workshop to hone these skills and experiment with rules of composition (and when to break them) will prove to be most useful.

Remember, these rules do not exist to restrict your vision, hinder your artistic style, or create a rigid standard for you to create by. These so-called rules of photographic composition are merely guidelines to help you create eye-catching and visually interesting photographic pieces.