Art is, literally, what the world looks like without rules; where opinions, drama, and ultimately, feelings, are King. So, to have rules for things such as photography is like having rules for what’s the best color – it’s hard, if not impossible to measure. But, there are some things that help to bring out your best imagery, and learning compositional guidelines are some such. Barry O Carroll has put together a useful set of illustrative images to help you.


rule of thirds


Or should I say, dividing the frame into 9 equal rectangles, 3 across, 3 down? The notion is to place the important element(s) of the scene along one or more of the lines. Or, where the lines intersect as opposed to directly in the middle.


Notice how in the photo above, the horizon line, the top of the church, and the bottom of it evenly divide.

center composition


Because a camera takes photos in a square-ish crop, having something directly in the middle usually works when the photo is horizontally or vertically a mirror image. Below, is a combination of the rule of thirds & symmetry.


interest & depth

Photos are 2D in nature, but depth can be created by having more than one interesting subject, juxtaposed in foreground vs. background.

rule-of-thirds-composition-art-philosophy-color-theory-leading-lines-0005For instance, in the photo above and below, both pictures have foreground  elements (rocks & chain)that lead to the background (waterfall & building).


This is another classic, or should I say, renaissance guideline, since the painters of that era were who first created depth through their use of framing within a frame. Notice in the photo below, the foreground element (the tree) that not only frames the photo but also is creating a space between the foreground and background , a  juxtaposition that creates depth.



As the name suggests, a leading line is any type of constant line that guides the viewer through the photo, across its entirety, and if executed properly, usually “leads” to the subject of the photo. It’s not, however, necessary for them to be straight, as seen in one of the photos below.

rule-of-thirds-composition-art-philosophy-color-theory-leading-lines-0008 rule-of-thirds-composition-art-philosophy-color-theory-leading-lines-0009

Diagonals & Triangles

To understand triangles without sounding too pretentious, one must first understand ‘dynamic tension’. Although a bit tricky to explain, in a nutshell, it’s the tension that angles bring to our subconscious. A photo taken where lines cross diagonally turn into triangles, which aren’t as static as squares.
rule-of-thirds-composition-art-philosophy-color-theory-leading-lines-0010 rule-of-thirds-composition-art-philosophy-color-theory-leading-lines-0011

Rule of Odds

This guideline proposes that if they’re an even number of subjects in a photo, the eye has a hard to picking what to focus on. In the photo below, we can see three arches and three people, easily, which theory suggests makes for a dynamic scene.


Color Theory

Color theory is something that graphic and fashion designers are all very familiar with and that all photographers would do well to understand too. It is certainly another tool to  use to communicate and framing can be done with color.


Having a good understanding of color theory and the color wheel will likely help you tremendously. As our Editor says, “Color theory is, ;It is the roof under which hue, value, and chroma reside,  and is the understanding of how colors interact, their mixtures, and their implementation. Notice how the colors are arranged logicallymin the segments of a circle, with colors opposite of one another, which are called complimentary colors. For example, Blue and Orange, as seen in the picture below.

rule-of-thirds-composition-art-philosophy-color-theory-leading-lines-0014In fact, the use of Blue & Orange is one of the most classic color combination used in the film industry. To see examples of this, click here.

Golden Triangle


Notice how the two big triangles split diagonally in the middle the frame from corner to corner. Also, notice how each triangle has a perpendicular line going to its respective corner. Instead of dividing the photo up into thirds evenly, this is dividing the photo up into triangles, evenly.

Golden Ratio

In mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. Huh?


What the math is saying is, if the frame is divided into the grid shown below (and you can think of it as an overlay) there is theory  to suggest images that can work with the equation are more appealing. everywhere in natuere.

So, remember, rules are more so largely accepted opinions that are now the standards. The greats, however, resisted this authority so much so, they became one. Boundaries are defined by those who wander over them, so let the rules guide you, but once they’re mastered, figure how to break them with your own intuition -that’s where the truest form of expression is performed.

Do you think the rules of composition should be broken once they’re mastered? Let me know in the comments below. And to give credit, these visuals were provided by Barry O Carroll. Make sure you check out his amazing work.