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Rules of composition

We've all heard the cliché 'rules are meant to be broken', and 'to break the rules, you must know them first'. Does photography have any rules? If yes, then why should I follow them? What if I do not follow them? Every budding photographer must have pondered over these questions at some point in time.

The rules of photography were not made by any person or institution or government. They are not really rules, but guidelines which may help you make better images. These guidelines are tried and tested ways in which good pictures have been drawn and great images being made by great artists, and it definitely makes sense to learn from them. We are not copying them; we have to begin somewhere and these guidelines give us a start.

Rule of thirds

 Rules of composition

There are many variations of this, but in its simplest form, this tells us to imagine four lines crossing the frame into nine equal parts, and then place the point of interest, i.e. the most important element in the frame, around any of the four intersection points. Without being aware of this 'rule', you will often feel an instinctive desire to place any important element around these four points, and this has been known to produce the most emotional impact. Just take a look at published and award winning images, most of them would demonstrate the rule of thirds.

Balancing Elements

Elements within the frame must be balanced by including other, supporting elements. This follows the rule of thirds as placing the subject off-centre may leave the other parts vacant.

Leading Lines

The next guideline tells us to include in the frame, any straight lines like roads, shadows, pipelines, railings etc. to guide us into it. This creates a perception of depth, and used intelligently, leads the viewer towards the point of interest.

Diagonal elements

Another composition technique is to place the major elements of a frame diagonally. To do this, we have to avoid shooting head on, which creates a documentary effect. Placing the elements this way also ensures the best use of the frame's space and creates a relationship between them.

Depth

By placing foreground elements or different elements in multiple layers you can create a perception of depth in an image and also generate more interest in it.

Viewpoint

Selecting a unique viewpoint is vital to creating an impressive frame. Try to shoot the same subjects from different angles, changing the perspective and viewpoint.

The human element

Shooting a barren landscape or a building usually lacks emotional impact. Including people in the frame adds more interest to the frame, establishes scale in landscapes and architecture, and carefully executed, creates a story which is better than just a pretty picture-postcard.

Patterns and symmetry

Human minds are soothed when they see symmetry and patterns. Try to include patterns in your composition. You can choose to shoot only the symmetrical forms, or include a distraction within the pattern.

 Background

 Haven't all of us taken a winning portrait, only to realise too late that clothes are hanging at the back, or worse, trees are growing out of the subject's head? Always check the background before taking the shot and make sure it clearly brings out the subject.

 Framing

Photography is all about framing. Framing an image draws greater attention to it. We can use naturally occurring frames like trees and branches or structures like doorways and arches to create framed compositions.

 Going close

Sometimes, cropping an image after shooting or going closer to the subject cuts out the unnecessary elements in the frame and draws more attention to the subject. This often creates a more attractive composition than a wide overview kind of shot.

 Space

If a subject is moving or looking/facing any direction, then you should frame it keeping reasonable space in that direction.

 Breaking the rules

Now that you know the rules, don't hesitate to break them once in a while. After all, rules are meant to be broken!

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Updated Date: Sep 19, 2017 12:28:12 IST

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