9 Photo Composition Tips Based on Pictures by an Award-Winning Photographer [VIDEO]

Want to take amazing photographs? Let’s start with the idea of composition. The Cooperative of Photography (COOPH) released a video called “9 Photo Composition Tips” to help us take that perfect picture.

With his permission, COOPH used photographs by award-winning professional photographer Steve McCurry to explain the best rules and techniques for good photo composition. Some of the rules include using natural lines to lead your audience’s eye into the image, finding contrast between your subject and the background, and looking for patterns, lines and symmetry.

Before continuing, a disclaimer. At the end of the video, McCurry is quoted as saying:

Remember the composition is important, but also rules are meant to be broken. So the main point is to enjoy yourself while your photographing and photograph in your own way, your own style.

Now onto those 9 tips!

1. Rule of Thirds

Image credit: Alan Cleaver / CC BY 2.0
The rule of thirds is arguably the most important principle in the world of photography, art and design. According to the rule, an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two horizontal and two vertical lines (like a tic-tac-tow board) – important elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.

2. Leading Lines

Image credit: Steven Bratman / CC BY 2.0
Take advantage of natural lines in the space you are photographing. These lines should effortlessly and conveniently lead the viewer’s eye into the picture or toward the subject.

3. Diagonals

Image credit: ™ Pacheco / CC BY-ND 2.0
Though a photo is a still image, that doesn’t mean it’s adynamic. The most intriguing movement and motion in an image are often the result of diagonal lines. Diagonals create fluidity.

4. Framing

Image credit: Claudio Matsuoka / CC BY 2.0

Built into the world we’re photographing are natural frames: windows, doors, arches, columns, etc. Use these to outline your subjects and to shape your pictures in unique and interesting ways.

5. Figure to Ground

Image credit: Volker Kannacher / CC BY-ND 2.0
Do you want parts of your photograph to pop? Stark contrast between your subject and the background shock the eye, making the image more memorable.

6. Fill the Frame

Image credit: CIAT / CC BY-SA 2.0
Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with your subjects. Close-up portraits can be intimate and powerful.

7. Center the Dominant Eye

Image credit: A Vahanvati / CC BY-SA 2.0
When photographing people and animals, especially close up, you’ll want to center the subject’s dominant eye, the one which is closest to you, the photographer. This creates the illusion that the eyes are following whoever sees the photo.

8. Patterns and Repetition

Image credit: Sarah / CC BY 2.0
The human eye loves repetition: patterns, recurring designs, the same colors, etc. And the eye loves it even more when repetition is disturbed and patterns are broken.

9. Symmetry

Image credit: ™ Pacheco / CC BY-ND 2.0
Symmetry is aesthetically pleasing. It leads the viewer’s eye through the photograph in a smooth and easy trajectory. In some photos, the two halves of a photo, divided vertically or horizontally, will mirror one another, with one half closely resembling the other. Sometimes, though, symmetry is more subtle; a centered line between earth and sky, for example, can provide a photo with a pleasing balance.

Knowing and Doing

Now that you know these nine tips, taking that perfectly composed photo may seem easy enough. It’s one thing to know how, however, and another to apply these tips reflexively when you’re snapping photos. Enjoy all the practice that gets you from knowing to doing!

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