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Tips & Tricks

Photo Composition: 9 Basic Guidelines For Better Photographs

By Hanssie on March 16th 2015

photo-compositionWithout rules, there would be chaos. Yet, without chaos, sometimes the art cannot be created. There are “rules” in photography, but they are more like guidelines, meant to be bent, meant to be broken, in the name of artistic freedom and expression. And with composition in photography, the rules/guidelines are definitely subjective. I may frame an image with a lot of negative space, as per my personal photography style, and you may take the same photograph and arrange it in a completely different manner. Thus is the beauty of art and photography.

Composition is simply the placement of elements in an image. Our eyes prefer order over chaos and there are basic things we can do to draw the eye to an image and thereby making the image more pleasing. It is best that you learn these as rules to start and then once they become second nature, look at them as guidelines to help you create your own vision and art.



The COOPH video below will give you 9 basic guidelines for photo composition, using world renowned photojournalist, Steve McCurry‘s incredible photographs as examples.  If you have never heard of Steve McCurry, you’d likely recognize his iconic photographs, and his famous ‘Afghan Girl’ image that appeared first in National Geographic.


The 9 rules begins with the most basic and widely known, Rule of Thirds, and moves to lesser known rules like placing the dominant eye of your subject in the center of the photograph. Even if you knew all 9 rules like the back of your hand, this 3 minute video is worth a watch just to enjoy the beauty of Steve’s photographs, which will inspire and mesmerize you, and make you long to know the back story of each and every image. This is the sign of a brilliant photographer – a visual storyteller.

The end of the video offers this nugget of wisdom from Steve,

The composition is important, but also, rules are meant to be broken, so the main point is to enjoy yourself while you’re photographing and photograph in your own way and your own style.


Watch 9 Photo Composition Tips (feat. Steve McCurry)

Many thanks to COOPH for sharing this video with us.

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Paul Empson

    really nice & always worth a refresh..

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  2. Dodge Rochelle Lecciones

    This is very helpful to me! Thanks a lot!!!

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  3. Graham Curran

    I need this as a pocket reference aide memoire until they become second nature. While I follow most of them I occasionally need a nudge in the ribs.

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  4. Geoffrey Van Meirvenne

    The tip on placing the dominant eye in the center was a new one for me. Great refresher, clearly explained in the video and on top I learned something new!

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  5. Daniel Ortiz

    I absolutely love this video! Thank you for sharing!

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  6. Peter Nord

    Send the URL to all your friends.

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  7. John Cavan

    Rules are, indeed, meant to be broken, but only if you know that you’re breaking it and why. Happy accidents do happen, but you’ll nail it more often if you understand what you’re trying to break.

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  8. Easton Reynolds

    Good stuff!

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  9. Vince Arredondo

    Big fan of Steve McCurry’s work.

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    • Brandon Dewey

      I am too!

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    • Brandon Dewey

      Even though the nine composition rules are not new, the way the video explained them was well done. I wish this video was around when I was a brand new to photography.

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    • Stephen Jennings

      I agree, well done, I have not seen the rules demonstrated in this way before, wish I had seen this a few years ago. Would have saved a few headaches I’m sure. :)

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  10. Kiel MacDonald

    I loved the lines at the end. I am not a great photographer but often feel that people don’t appreciate the journey of going from a beginner to a ‘professional’. Just because a rule is broken doesn’t mean it’s a bad photo. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s a bad photo. These rules are great to help guide someone to compose things many find beautiful. But if a client wants a picture of their foot which is half cropped and with bad lighting and contrast, that’s who you’re meant to please, not the photographers sitting at their computers skimming 500px or Facebook, etc. Thanks for the video, loved the tips and suggestions and loved the tone (lighthearted, fun, and adventurous)

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