Bite Size Tips: The Rule Of Odds

Composition can make or break a photo. There are so many rules (guidelines to be precise) of composition to create a compelling image.

One of those is the infamous rule of odds that not many photographers take into account while composing an image.

Here Is What You Need To Know About The Rule Of Odds:

As the name “odds” itself implies, the “rule of odds” suggests that in order to make a composition interesting and more focused, having an odd number of subjects in a frame is more interesting than having an even number of subjects.

Why? Because even numbers tend to create symmetry and also the human brain tends to pair even numbers.

However, this does not mean that you should not take photographs where there is an even number of subjects.

Image by Simon Matzinger

For example, imagine having two elements in an image and three elements in another image “or” four elements in one and five elements in the other. Which one do you think looks visually appealing? The “odd number” would be the answer from a majority I guess.

You can see the difference two and three elements create – illustration created for Light Stalking

Here again, you can see that the one with 4 elements is highly static forming a perfect symmetry or geometry whereas the one with five elements creates a dynamic feeling – illustration created for Light Stalking.

The Problem With Even Elements

When there are two subjects, it creates a situation where the eye wanders between the two trying to find the best of the two, whereas if you have a third subject, the eye rests on the middle subject that draws focus.

It is complemented by the other two subjects that frame the third subject.

Here are some sample images with just two elements in them – these images lack an interesting focal point

Image 1 by BRRT, Image 2 by _Alicja_, Image 3 by Pasja 1000, Image 4 by _Alicja_, Image 5 by TheVirtualDenise

What Is The Rule Of Odds?

Composing an image with an odd number of subjects” is following the “rule of odds” guideline and most commonly it is 3 or a maximum of 5. A grouping of 7 and above tends to look crowded. So, if you are including more than one subject in an image, then the suggestion is to keep it odd and not even.

Why The Rule Of Odds?

  • Odds – Help create a “Dynamic and Interesting” image.
  • Evens – Tend to create a “Static and Uninteresting” image

Images that are composed of odd number of subjects

  • are more visually pleasing than images that are composed of an even number of subjects.
  • help to create depth in an image (something like 3D)
  • increase focus while viewing by providing a visual balance

Image 1 by Pezibear, Image 2 by Pezibear, Image 3 by Pixabay, Image 4 by TrevoyKellyPhotography

Viewers always look for a central subject and that is achieved through the rule of odds by having a central subject surrounded by supporting subjects. Three creates a triangle and triangles always help to create focal points by leading the viewer into the subject.

How Can You Compose Your Elements?

  • You can do them in a line – side by side
  • Or as a triangle formation
  • When there are more than 3, move them around to create a pleasing composition in the frame.

The rule of odds has been a rule of design from ancient times. It is funny but true that compositions with “three rather than two” or “five rather than four” are just visually more interesting.

If you are interested in advanced composition, don't forget to check out the guide to Advanced Composition over at Photzy.

We would also like to know what your opinions are about the rule of odds. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

It would be interesting to know how each individual perceives the rule of odds.


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About the author

Dahlia Ambrose

Dahlia is a physicist and self taught photographer with a passion for travel, photography and technology. She can sometimes get obsessed trying new photography techniques and post processing styles using Lightroom or Plugins in Photoshop. She occasionally writes articles on topics that interest or provoke her. You can check out her photography on Instagram, 500px and Flickr

  • Rudolf says:

    Very nice and so obvious once you see the difference – thanks for pointing it out


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