All too often photographers are told how to compose their images correctly, following all of the standard compopsition rules. We’ve all heard them: rule of thirds, lead lines, golden spiral, head room, don’t cut off limbs, etc… Most aspiring shooters listen to this laundry list of rules, feel overwhelmed quickly and bound by their new restrictions (to avoid embarrassing themselves mostly). It’s not often that someone with experience comes along and shares their nuanced perspective on composition.

It has taken me years of shooting to understand how to fit subjects into environments naturally. Although this concept is complex, it boils down to awareness. Are you aware of your scene, surroundings, and balance of the image?

In my newest tutorial (video below), I shed light on what goes through my head while composing portraits. I’ve boiled it down to 5 important ideas that both follow and break the rules, but also offer a different approach to the said rules:

[REWIND: Canon 85mm 1.2 L vs Canon 85mm 1.4 L | ‘Why I Dumped My 1.2’ – Vanessa Joy]


– How to balance a photograph with a centered subject

Negative Space

– Use it to your advantage and communicate the scene

Rule of Thirds (deconstructed)

– Breaking the image down into sections

Background/Foreground Elements

– Adding elements outside of your subject for context

Natural Framing

– Fitting your subject into their environment in the most organic way

It’s fun to see how similar each idea is and how often they blend with one another. Once you have a firm grasp on camera settings, and using light, intentional composition can drastically change your imagery. After 7 years of shooting, I feel I’ve found my unique voice and a consistency in portraiture that I never felt prior.

Don’t be discouraged. This is a process. What’s important is that you are intentional with composing. As you continue to grow as a photographer, continually question how you can balance your images more. How can you make the photograph make more sense to the viewer? Practice, practice, practice, and see the hard-earned results.

Check out the video for a full look. And you can follow me on Youtube, Instagram and on my site.

My photography gear list:

My video gear for this video: