Here at Digital Focus, I often write about the science and technology of photography. But while the software, gadgets, and photo editing techniques are fun, some of the most important lessons in photography aren’t about the technology at all. This week, let’s set aside high-tech photo editing like high dynamic range and hyperfocal photography, and instead talk about a few of the most basic–and common–rules of composition. Mastering these rules can help you turn what could be a simple snapshot into something more–into a story about the moment in time in which the photo was taken.
Follow the Rule of Thirds
Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is utterly ubiquitous: Every movie and TV show makes almost constant use of it, and professional photographers avoid putting the subject in the center of the frame almost without exception. To understand it, draw two lines through a photo, dividing it into thirds. This turns it into something like a tic-tac-toe board, as you see here.
At its essence, the rule of thirds says that you’ll get the most interesting photos when your subject isn’t in the center of the frame, but rather is positioned off-center, to the left, right, up, or down. You can position your subject at any of the four intersection points of the third lines, or along one of the four lines, like the birds in this example.