4 Simple Composition Guidelines for Beginners

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To many (probably most) photographers, composition reigns supreme when it comes to the most important component of a good photograph. Of course, individual stylistic choices should always be considered, but the general consensus is that composition is often the make or break factor.

All the talk about composition — its importance, its varied and sometimes complicated iterations — can be intimidating for new photographers (and maybe even some not-so-new photographers). But learning how to place a subject in the frame for maximum visual impact will do wonders for your photography.

Here are 4 simple yet effective techniques that will help you improve your photographic composition skills and give you the confidence you need to expand your creative boundaries.

Don’t Get Stuck In The Middle

I’m quite sure everyone does it when starting out in photography: place the subject dead center of the frame. Yes, there are times when this approach works wonderfully, but not all the time and not for every subject.

Centering everything all the time gets boring. You can add a bit of dynamism to your shots by simply moving your camera in such a way that places your subject in or along the upper, lower, left or right third of the frame.

This is the rule of thirds and it allows you to create balance and depth in a scene.

girl wearing blue denim vest
Photo by Riya Kumari from Pexels

Get In Line

Whether literal or abstract, lines are everywhere. Use them. From telephone wires to roads, walls to fences, shorelines to sun rays, use lines to draw the viewer’s eye to your intended point of interest.

This composition technique, referred to as leading lines, helps you create depth and perspective and serves as something of a visual map for the viewer.

dog running on bridge
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Play To Your Strengths

If you regularly use a cell phone for photography, it’s likely you default to portrait orientation to take all your shots. It feels natural; the shape of the phone sort of lends itself to shooting that way.

If you’re accustomed to shooting with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, horizontal orientation may be your preferred manner of shooting.

To be sure, there aren’t different “rules” that apply separately to horizontal and portrait orientations, but you sometimes have to apply the rules in different ways.

While some might argue that it’s easier to learn composition with the camera in horizontal position, I think the prevalence of mobile devices being used as cameras has somewhat shifted that paradigm. 

If using a cell phone has normalized shooting in portrait orientation for you, then carry those concepts over whenever you use a dedicated camera body. Similarly, you should apply your knowledge of horizontal compositional methods when using a cell phone. 

gray samsung smartphone showing chocolates
Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Experiment

It is indeed possible to play fast and loose with these compositional guidelines and still create powerful imagery. First, however, you’ll want to get a solid grasp on the basics in order to build a strong foundation for your creative vision.

After that, it’s game on. Try new things, make tweaks to techniques you’ve already learned, combine multiple styles.

Don’t underestimate the value of trial and error as a learning tool.

photo of person standing on temple
Photo by Stijn Dijkstra from Pexels

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to learn about composition and it’s not something you’re going to master quickly. In fact, you may spend the rest of your life seeking mastery of various composition guidelines. 

Don’t let this stress you out; rather, know that you’ll always have something new to learn.

Above all, have fun.

Further Reading

About Author

Jason Little is a photographer, author and stock shooter. You can see Jason’s photography on his Website or his Instagram feed.

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