Skip to main content

Photography: Composing your shot

Rate this tutorial
Average: 2.3 (3 votes)

Composition is one of the keys to successful photographs. People will have less appreciation for your work if the composition does not work out, even if the observer does not appreciate why. 


Handy tips

  • Choose a subject with something striking about it: your viewers should not have to stand staring at the picture hunting for the feature they are supposed to be observing.
  •  Arrange visual components so that they give a balanced picture.

1. Centred composition

Placing the subject in the centre of the picture gives a type of composition that should be chosen strategically. The picture can work if the surrounding symmetry means that the subject is naturally centred. But it is of fairly limited use.

2. The rule of thirds

This technique means placing the subject off centre. How? Imagine that the viewfinder (or rear screen) has a three by three grid formed by two sets of lines running horizontally and vertically Then, simply place the subject on one of these line or one of the points of intersection.

  • The technique works when framing both horizontally and vertically.
  • For close-up portraits, place the eye of your subject on one of the intersections, or on one of the upper dividing lines, thus limiting the amount of empty space above the subject.
  •  With landscapes, avoid placing the horizon so that it runs through the middle of the frame; instead, go for one or the other-- either give pride of place to an exquisite sky by placing the contours of the landscape along the lower line, or give priority to the landscape by placing the contours along the upper line.

3. Leading lines

For landscapes or other panoramic scenes.

  • Find an element of the picture that will draw the eyes of the observer in towards the image.
  • This leading line may start in any corner of the frame, but should lead towards the subject. Examples might include roads, rivers, groups of rocks or the branch of a tree.

4. Direction of gaze or movement

  • If the subject is stationary, leave space in the direction of their gaze (e.g. a person or animal at rest).
  • If the subject is moving, leave space in the direction of travel.

Note: Adapt these rules for your own use!

  • Learning when to deviate from these rules or prioritise one over the other is a process of trial and error!
  • When assessing the success of your pictures, never try to factor in the shooting conditions.


You’ll always learn more from your mistakes than from your most successful pictures!