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What are the golden rules of photography?

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This article was originally popular photo.

There are many rules in photography, but they are really just principles. Most of them are useful guidelines worth understanding, not orders to follow literally. I’ll look. But first, we need to cover some of the most important basics of photographic composition.

rule of thirds

The third rule divides the frame into 6 equal sections. Stan Horacek

The rule of thirds is one of the most common and most misunderstood basics of photographic composition. The idea is to divide the frame into thirds both vertically and horizontally. A key element of the image should be placed on one of these third lines, like the track in the image above.

While not the secret to a great image per se, the rule of thirds is a great way to avoid major composition mistakes. Following this usually keeps the most important element of the image well-placed within the frame without being too centered.

If you have a reason to ignore the rule of thirds, do it now. Otherwise, it’s a convenient composition principle to get you started.

Golden ratio

Learn the golden rules of photography (before you break them)
The golden ratio or spiral is Irrational number. Wikimedia/Roman

of Golden ratio Also golden spiral Structurally speaking, it’s similar to the rule of thirds, but with more elements Mysticism and mathematics thrown in.

The rule of thirds divides the frame into three equal sections, also known as the golden ratio. fibonacci spiral, with vertical frame lines closer to the center of the frame, dividing it into one slightly smaller quadrant and one slightly larger quadrant. Every time the frame is split horizontally, smaller sections are split vertically using the same ratio. This process is repeated, dividing the frame into smaller and smaller chunks as shown above.

Learn the golden rules of photography (before you break them)
An example of the golden ratio in use. Abby Ferguson

However, although the ratio often appears in both great work of art When Nature, I have yet to see an image that creates a much stronger composition than the rule of thirds (they are very similar). So while it might be fun to play around with, it’s certainly not a compositional rule you should stick to.


Symmetry can create incredibly eye-catching images. It is often easy to create symmetrical compositions with reflections, such as using surface water or man-made structures, as shown below.

Learn the golden rules of photography (before you break them)
A symmetrical image that also shows nice colors that are almost complementary. Stan Horacek

Symmetry is also one of the most fun compositional principles to break. Images that mix symmetrical and asymmetrical elements are incredibly attractive.

complementary color

Remember your first art class? Remember the color wheel? The same principles that apply to paintings and drawings also apply to photography. Placing opposite colors side by side or near each other on the wheel often makes them appear brighter. So, for example, photos that contain red and green, yellow and blue, or purple and orange look more vibrant and punchy. Take advantage of this knowledge.

leading line

Learn the golden rules of photography (before you break them)
Leading lines draw the viewer into the scene. Abby Ferguson

Our eyes are drawn to strong lines in an image. This creates something like a guide rail on a bridge or just a road through the landscape, and is a great way to direct (or lead) the viewer’s eye to the most important part of the photo.

The first line isn’t a configuration rule that you have to break, rather that you have to be careful if you don’t want to use it. Strong lines in an image can attract the viewer’s attention. If you don’t want to see where the lines connect, you’ll have to recompose the shot.

fill the frame

Learn the golden rules of photography (before you break them)
Fill the frame and focus on your subject. Dan Braccaria

Filling the frame is a compositional approach that allows the subject to occupy as much of the image as possible. For portraits, this usually means cropping the subject’s face and body to fit the entire frame. This removes the background and thus the scene context from the subject, often with rather dramatic results. As above, the same approach can be applied to crowds.

While it’s a stylistic approach that works for many types of photography, there are many cases where the subject shouldn’t fill the frame. For example, if you’re trying to put your subject in its environment to show its size, or if you’re trying to create a sense of isolation, filling the frame defeats your intent.

don’t cut things off

Learn the golden rules of photography (before you break them)
It’s best not to awkwardly clip the limbs of humans or furry friends. Abby Ferguson

A general principle recommended by many photo books is to avoid clipping the limbs, torso, or other important parts of the image at the edges of the frame. It’s easy to see why. Most people look ridiculous with half their hands cut off. However, it can be really hard to pull off, especially if you’re shooting street or travel scenes.

At some point the picture ends, but the world continues. It’s worth thinking about what is being cropped from the image each frame, but you always have to make the decision to crop something. (Try to include as many limbs as possible in the image.)

keep the action in frame

Learn the golden rules of photography (before you break them)
For photos with movement, allow space for the subject to move within the frame. Dan Braccaria

Especially in sports and other types of action photography, the rule of thumb is to keep the action in the frame. This means that if your subject is running to the right, place it on the left side of the image and run into open space.

This is another rule that works in many situations, but is easy to break if you have a reason to do so. For example, if you’re shooting a 100m sprint and want to show the difference between the 1st place runner and his 2nd place runner.

Useful rules, not laws

Photography is a wonderful fusion of science and art. Although the process of capturing images relies on the laws of physics and mathematics, composing photographs is pure art. The basics of photo composition contain some great rules, but they’re best viewed as starting points to help you avoid making mistakes rather than unbreakable laws.

We’ll see how to do that in the next article in the series.

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