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Alright, maybe this seems a little bit hard to imagine. How could there only be 3 techniques that will improve your work? What about having an expensive camera? Going to beautiful locations? Having the fanciest glass money can buy? Does none of that matter?

Once you understand how to shoot a photo, properly exposed and all, why aren’t your photos looking like the ones your favourite photographer takes? No matter if you are shooting on a cell phone or a $10,000 camera, It all comes down to one thing; composition.

Now composition, simply defined in photo terms, is everything that makes up your frame. That’s right, everything you see in your photo is your composition. As the author of your frames contents, how can you make your composition the best it can be?

A quick note, I know many of you are photographers, some are digital artists, some are both! Compositional rules apply to all visual art forms and these tips will help your photos and/or art no matter what style you have!

5 Key Rules Of Composition

There is a pretty expansive list of rules of composition. Here are a few:

-Rule of Thirds                     -Depth Of Field                    -Leading Lines

– Symmetry/Balance           -Light & Dark                       – Frame Within A Frame

-Colour                                  -Patterns                               – Negative Space

-Foreground/Depth            -Simplicity                             -Point Of View

The list goes on and on. Instead of overwhelming you with individual rules and how they apply, I’ve picked 5 key rules to focus on.

Rule Of Thirds:

This is easily the most widely known rule. Every frame is broken up into thirds; placing your subject on one of these thirds can help to frame them more cleanly. Where each of our thirds, vertical and horizontal, intersect; those are called ‘Power Points’. Power Points are a great area to position faces, eyes, or any other type of subject. See examples below:


Body positioned on left third, lantern hanging in direct centre.


Hiker positioned on right third, Osprey logo directly on a power point to highlight its significance.

Light And Dark:

Now that we have placed our subject in our frame, taking into consideration our rule of thirds; we want to look for light and dark within our composition. Our eyes are naturally drawn to lighter areas so preferably, our subject will be in the light; while surrounding areas remain in the dark. This juxtaposition will add emphasis onto the location of our subject:


The dark edges of the cave make the lighter areas feel more appealing to the eye. My subject is placed in the centre of the light to highlight their position effectively.


The bottom half of this image is darker than the top half. Our eyes are drawn to the lighter areas which, in turn lead up, to our subject.

Leading Lines:

Going off of adding emphasis to your subject, leading lines are a great way to point the viewers eye in a particular direction. Whether these lines are stretching away or towards your subject, it can be a great way to show whats most important. Lines can be anything from literal lines, to a footprints in the snow. Here are some examples of leading lines:


The cliffs funnel our eyes down to our subject. This is one example of leading lines.



The footprints in the snow draw a path to our subject.


It may seem a bit odd to think that something with no physical weight can be balanced. In visual art terms, balance or symmetry, is how much space in the frame one subject holds versus another. For example, having two subjects on opposing thirds can make your frame feel balanced because each subject holds equal size and/or placement in the frame. Here are a few examples:


The hiker and mountain peak hold equal weight in the frame and are equally spaced from the outsides of our frame.


The flame and model balance each side of the frame in this example.


Depth is definitely a super key player in many of your favourite images, real or digital art. Depth can be created through several of the key compositional elements already listed. I will go a bit deeper into how to create depth in the next section. Here are some examples:


Depth is created in this image by layering of different subjects. The model is much larger in frame versus the tornado. The road gives the feeling that the tornado is down the road, behind the model. Thus creating depth as our eyes travel from front to back.


The layering of the foreground log, person, and waterfall, all work together to create a sense of depth in this image.

The 3 Techniques To Instantly Improve Your Images:

Okay, so now we have gone over the 5 key rules of composition, now how can we apply these rules to improve the quality of our work?

Technique 1: Define A CLEAR Point Of Interest

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to pick JUST one thing to make the focus of your image. Keep it simple and define 1 subject(aka point of interest)and use the surrounding areas to help accent your subject. This is when our rules of composition will be useful! Finding leading lines, lights and darks, complimentary colours etc. in your surroundings to make your subject POP.


Orange is abundant in our background adding emphasis to the blanket the model is holding.

Technique 2: Keep It Simple!

Now define simple. Far too often I see images with really great potential, but the way they have been edited(in both photography and digital art terms)makes it difficult for your eyes to settle on just one thing.

Try to avoid things like:

  • Unnecessary elements in your edits/images.
  • Too much of one thing such as too much colour, dark, light etc.
  • Having your subject blend in with your background.
  • Shooting mid-day when shadows look less appealing
  • Pushing your image in post so much that it begins to degrade quality

Those are just a few things to try to avoid. Make things easier on yourself. Just keep things simple and to the point!


Technique 3: Shoot At Better Times Of Day

And if you are an editor, edit for sunrise or sunset. This time of day offers the most amount of natural colour with gorgeous shadows and warmer highlights. Shooting either first thing in the morning or right at sunset will always be your best option to make your images come to life.


Taken during sunrise.

An exception to this is on stormy days. Fog and low cloud become a giant diffuser of sunlight and casts a soft light across the world below. This type is whether is a great option if you are wanting to capture or create a darker, moody scene.



At the end of the day, all of these useful techniques will have no value without consistent practice and use. Eventually these types of things will transform from a thought process into a feeling, when creating your compositions.

As your style develops you will begin to discover certain compositional techniques that work best for you and best suit your images. Until then, continue experimenting with your compositions and see what sort of magic you can capture!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this article! What compositional techniques do you find most useful? What was the hardest thing for you to learn when first starting with photography or digital art? Let me know in the comments!

If you know someone who would find value from these techniques make sure to SHARE this post with them! 🙂

Happy Hump Day!

– Brendan