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Photographic composition // definitive guide

Today we are going to talk about photographic composition and I will also show photography composition techniques. It will be a long article so fasten your seat belts.

It may seem cliché, but one of the most valuable rules in photography photography is that there are no rules, however, there are a number of guidelines for photographic composition that when properly applied will definitely increase the impact of your photographs.

I know you noticed the title of the post, and when I talk about “The definitive guide”, I don’t want to be presumptuous and say that I know everything you need to know about photographic composition.

What I want to show you is with the items that are here in this post, you will spend a lifetime photographing and you will not spend all the options.

What we will see in this article

  • Rule of thirds
  • Formal balance in photography
  • Informal photo balance
  • Golden ratio and the Fibonacci spiral
  • Colors used in photographic composition
  • Photographic composition and patterns
  • Guiding lines
  • Frames or framing
  • Photographic composition and depth of field

Photographic composition // The definitive Guide.

When we talk about photographic composition, everyone starts by thinking about rules to be followed literally, and if that is not the case, there is no way to take good pictures.

The so-called composition techniques won’t make your photos look better if you have no idea what it’s like to take a beautiful portrait. But if you know what you’re doing, they will serve to fulfill their role, direct your viewer’s gaze to the point of interest in the photo, the most important point. This point is the photographer who chooses.

What is photographic composition

Photographic composition is a way of organizing what is appearing in your frame. You will always be responsible for 100% of what appears in your frame. We can use as part of the photography composition the point of view, the lines, the colors, the balance of these factors, the highlight of the main subject, as well as the disposition of the secondary subjects.

And to make life easier in terms of how to frame a photo, there are some techniques that help not only photographers but also painters, drawings and a number of other artists.

The first and perhaps one of the simplest techniques for composing photography is the Rule of Thirds.

Photographic composition. Bearded Lyzard by Rix Mascarenhas on
Rule of third in action!

Photographic composition techniques: Rule of thirds

This is one of the photographic composition techniques that can be beaten, but it works. The rule says that the image is more pleasant when its element of interest is along imaginary lines that divide the image into thirds, horizontally and or vertically.

Photographic composiia

In fact, it is quite surprising that this seemingly mathematical rule can be applied to something as varied and subjective as photography.

Positioning the most important elements at the intersection of horizontal and vertical lines creates a good sense of balance for the viewer, without making the image visually very polluted.

This rule is not just a photographic composition rule, in fact it can be found in many places, photographs, videos and paintings are the main places where you will find this photographic composition rule.

Photographic composiia
The Percistence of Memory – Salvador Dali
Photographic composiia

In the picture above we can see how Salvador Dali applied the rule of thirds well in order to draw his attention to some points in the painting.

If you don’t care much about painting or painters, which will be strange for a photographer, you will also see this rule at work in movie scenes or TV series.

Photographic composiia

In the scene above we have a classic scene from the movie Seven – 7 capital crimes where we can see again the power of the rule of thirds.

But not everything is so easy the rule of thirds has its limitations there. Imagine the situation where there is no object in the image that you want to draw attention to.

Although rare, there are situations where you cannot use this rule.

Photographic composiia

However, the “spirit of the rule” can still be applied in order to give the photo a sense of balance, without making the object appear too static and immutable.

Photographic composition and Balance

Putting the main subject off center, as with the rule of thirds, creates a more interesting photo, but it can leave a void in the scene.

So it is quite common to place a counterpoint in order to create a more balanced image.

Photographic composiia
Imagem by Shannon Kokoska.

Here, the visual “weight” of the road sign is in relation to the building on the other side of the photo.

Formal balance in photography

There are basically two types of balance in photography. The first is formal balance, also called symmetric balance.

As the name suggests, it is when individuals one or more identical or similar are repeated symmetrically on each side of a given photographic plane.

Photographic composiia

Informal photographic balance.

The second type, the informal balance or called asymmetric balance, is when one or more different elements make up the balance and are on either side of the photo plane.

Informal balance is less obvious, because individuals are not uniform, but very effective when composing a beautiful photo.

A well-made image using informal balance is more attractive to the viewer compared to a symmetrically composed image.

Photographic composiia

Golden ratio and the Fibonacci spiral in the photographic composition

The golden ratio, or also called the Golden ratio, is a powerful tool for photographic composition. Not only photographic composition, for centuries we can find evidence of its use in paintings, architecture.

It is a principle of construction based on the ratio of 1 to 1.618. Hailed as “the perfect number”, the golden ratio can help in creating images so that they have a strong composition, which will attract the viewer’s eyes to your photograph.

Often the golden ratio is confused with the Fibonacci spiral, it is also not for even the two spirals are practically the same.

There are many interpretations of how we can use the golden ratio in photography. The most common interpretations in photographic compositions are the Phi Grid and the Fibonacci spiral.

Photographic composiia
Fibonacci spiral.

It is said that around the 12th century a mathematician named Leonardo Fibonacci conceived a series of numbers that could produce an aesthetically pleasing composition.

From this concept he created the well-known Fibonacci spiral. The Fibonacci spiral was created from a series of squares using Fibonacci numbers, with the length of each square being a Fibonacci number.

And in this way, applying the Fibonacci spiral, as a guide for the photographic composition, we can arrive at more harmonious and balanced results, according to Leonardo Fibonacci’s concept of aesthetics.

The most impressive thing about this is that it is really functional, just like the rule of thirds, and we can say that the golden ratio works well.

Photographic composiia
Fibonacci Spiral

There are many ruThere are many rumors that famous works of art such as the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, and The Birth of Venus, among others, were composed with the aid of the golden ratio.

Regra do tercao
 The Phi grid

Another interpretation of the golden ratio is the Phi Grid, which can be called a simplified Fibonacci spiral.

The Phi grid can be very similar to the rule of thirds, but there is a very important difference.

Instead of dividing the frame into equal thirds of 1: 1: 1, the golden ratio is applied, to divide the space, the result is a grid of 1: 0.618: 1.

This results in a set of lines that are much more centralized when compared to the rule of thirds.

Exemplo da regra do tercao com foto de uma cidade com nuvens

There is no right or wrong version of the Golden Ratio, each of which will work best at any given time. The Phi degree for example is a great option for composing landscape photos.

With these 4 photographic composition techniques you can spend years photographing, and I guarantee you that your life as a photographer will be easier.

Colors used in photographic composition

Color is one of the most evident elements of photographic composition. Everyone knows that the intense colors make people more easily notice the point of interest of their images.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many sunflower pictures out there? The color for this is the colors. Color has some functions in photographs. First, color holds the viewer’s attention.

And one of the ways to pass on some sensation to the viewer of your images is also defined by color, here we call it the photo’s mood.

Color is so important in the photographic composition that many photographers try to use it in the entire length of their compositions, both to hold the viewer’s attention and to define the mood, mood, of the photo.

Colors as an eye-catching factor

Using color to hold your attention is often quite effective. Generally, what is needed is a saturated or intense color.

This type of color tends to attract the viewer’s attention and guide it towards the color area, where its main object of interest may be.

Vermelhos tomatoes, and um green tomato
Hold attention

Além disso, a cor tende a manter atencao do espectador In addition, color tends to keep the viewer’s attention for an extended period of time. When the viewer’s eyes want to leave that region and wander around, the color tends to bring attention back.

For the sun not sea
Johnson Zhan

The second way to use color to attract the viewer’s attention is to use a mixture of contrasting colors. An example of this approach would be an image with gradient colors, where there is a combination of red, orange and yellow.


Defining mood through the use of color tends to be a more subtle application of color than when color is used to capture the viewer’s attention. However, this does not mean that this device is less powerful.

Different colors cause different moods. Since there are an enormous number of colors, it is not possible to cover all colors and their impacts on the mood of viewers in an article like this.

So as I have written specific articles on colors and color temperature, it is worth reading them! After all, working with light is also a good way to manipulate the quality of your composition.

Photographic composition - Homen na praia jumping with as waves
Doc de Jun dacumos

Photographic composition and patterns

Patterns are widely used in photography, these can be graphic elements that repeat, colors, tones and shapes that align or repeat on the plane to be photographed.

Shapes are considered to be one of the most useful types of strong patterns in composing photographs. Then triangles, circles and squares that are repeated will always be your friends when composing a photo.

Photographic composiia
Photo by Paul Bica

In situations where repetitive patterns are expected, they can give your photo a sense of calm.

We can even digress here and say that because the viewer already expects what will happen, even in his subconscious, repetition brings a counterpoint to this chaotic world, and because of this we have a feeling of peace and comfort.

A different approach to avoid the monotony of repetition patterns is to purposely break the pattern.

Breaking the flow of the pattern disturbs your pace and can add more drama to a photo.

Such disturbance can be natural or can be manipulated by the photographer by introducing an element of a contrasting color, of a different shape or texture, etc.

Even removing one of the elements that make up the pattern can work well to break this rhythm.

Photographic composiia
Photo by Lali Masriera

Guiding lines or leading lines

Composition and good photography always go hand in hand. Anyone can (with practice) improve the skills and techniques to take a photo with good exposure.

But it will always be your talent and how you see the world that will define whether your photos stood out in the crowd.

When we talk about the technical part, everything can be taught more easily, but the business changes completely when it comes to photographic composition.

And as we have seen since the beginning of this article, these “rules” will help you to improve this artist side in order to help you compose better and more pleasant photos.

And our next photographic composition technique is one of the most important when it comes to creating strong compositions, and it’s called guidelines.

Photographic composition guidelines are used to direct the viewer’s gaze to the point of interest, just as when we use colors to direct the viewer’s gaze.

Photographic composiia
“Snowdonian sunset” by Philip Male

LiGuidelines are very strong elements in photography, especially when combined with other elements of composition, in order to make the point you want your viewer to look at much more obvious.

Photographic composiia
Photo by Alyona Arnautova

Using long and relatively complex lines helps a lot when directing the viewer’s eyes to the point you want them to look at.

Frames or framing as a composition technique

What do you do with that photo or photos that you like a lot? As they would say, you have “frame” right?

Well, why not frame it in a different way?

Photographic composiia

We can say that this type of framing, which we call framing, is one of the most efficient photographic composition techniques to draw the viewer’s attention to the point where you want him to look.

Photographs made with this type of composition will always have a very nice weight and help your image to gain evidence.

You can manage the frame to give context to your image as well as create a beautiful feeling of depth.

Photographic composiia
Using framing to give context to imagem

Another very interesting thing about this type of composition technique is to sharpen the viewer’s imagination, making his imagination try to unravel what is behind the frame that frames the photo.

Useo da tecnica de framing ou molda na fotografia
Sensation of depth.

Compose with depth

Another one of the photographic composition techniques that you can use and that has a very nice effect on your images is to use the depth of field. You will use this technique in order to isolate the object of interest, in focus or out of it.

As I already wrote a very nice article on the subject I suggest you read it now and complete this saga That said, I think there is only one thing left to do, put this into practice.

Go out, photograph, remember what you read here and put it into practice. Don’t forget that all rules can be broken and in the end what counts is beautiful work.

If you liked the article send it to a friend! And don’t forget to leave your comment.

Written by Rix Mascarenhas

Rix Mascarenhas is a photographer, videographer, and drone pilot at

Art lover, always involved with crafts, design, painting etc... As a photographer, I enjoy taking pictures and creating stories that have meaning and help people to thrive. My work is guided by the stories behind each scene that really represent the moment.

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