PHOTOGRAPHY RULES


NEGATIVE SPACE

Negative space is the area which surrounds the main subject in your photo (the main subject is known as the “positive space”). This definition is rather abstract, so take a look at the example photo.

Negative space defines and emphasizes the main subject of a photo, drawing your eye to it. It provides “breathing room”, giving your eyes somewhere to rest and preventing your image from appearing too cluttered with “stuff”. All of this adds up to a more engaging composition.

DIAGONALS & TRIANGLES

It is often said that triangles and diagonals add ‘dynamic tension’ to a photo. 

What do we mean by ‘dynamic tension’ though? This can be a tricky one to explain and can seem a bit pretentious. Look at it this way, horizontal lines and vertical lines suggest stability. If you see a person standing on a level horizontal surface, he will appear to be pretty stable unless he’s stumbling out of a pub at 2am. Put this man on a sloping surface and he’ll seem less stable. This creates a certain level of tension visually. We are not so used to diagonals in our every day life. They subconsciously suggest instability. Incorporating triangles and diagonals into our photos can help create this sense of ‘dynamic tension’.

Incorporating triangles into a scene is a particularly good effective way of introducing dynamic tension. Triangles can be actual triangle-shaped objects or implied triangles. I’ll explain this in more detail in a moment.

LEADING LINES

Leading lines help lead the viewer through the image and focus attention on important elements. Anything from paths, walls or patterns can be used as leading lines. Take a look at the example.

Leading lines do not necessarily have to be straight. In fact curved lines can be very attractive compositional features.

FRAME WITHIN THE FRAME

Including a ‘frame withing the frame’ is another effective way of portraying depth in a scene. Look for elements such as windows, arches or overhanging branches to frame the scene with. The ‘frame’ does not necessarily have to surround the entire scene to be effective.

The use of scenery viewed through arches was a common feature of Renaissance painting as way of portraying depth. Using a ‘frame within a frame’ presents a great opportunity to use your surroundings to be creative in your compositions.

SYMMETRY

There are times when placing a subject in the centre of the frame works really well. Symmetrical scenes are perfect for a centered composition. They look really well in square frames too.

This photo of the Count de Hoernle Amphiteater in the city of Boca Raton the perfect candidate for a centered composition. Architecture and roads often make great subjects for a centered compositions.

Scenes containing reflections are also a great opportunity to use symmetry in your composition. You can often combine several composition guidelines in a single photograph.

RULE OF THIRDS

The rule of thirds is very simple. You divide the frame into 9 equal rectangles, 3 across and 3 down as illustrated below. Many camera manufacturers have actually included the capability to display this grid in live view mode. Check your camera’s manual to see how to turn on this feature. 

In this photo, the horizon roughly along the bottom third of the frame and the biggest and closest trees along the line to the right. The photo wouldn’t have the same impact if the larger trees had been placed in the centre of the frame.

You should place the most important element(s) in your shot on one of the lines or where the lines meet. It works very well for landscapes as you can position the horizon on one of the horizontal lines that sit in the lower and upper part of the photograph while the vertical subjects like trees or mountains can be placed on one of the two vertical lines.

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