Nidelva river through Trondheim Norway

Nidelva river through Trondheim Norway
by Saaru Lindestokke                

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I always hear a lot about The Rule of Thirds. I'd like to know more about other 'tried-and-true' composition techniques (not special effects) that can make a photo more interesting.

In particular, I'd especially like to know:

  • The name of the technique
  • Any particular types of settings the technique is particulary useful
  • Interesting ways to 'break' the rule
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I think this is best covered by the composition-basics tag. – mattdm Jul 12 '11 at 3:52
You're right. I feel pretty silly having asked the question now. I did a little more digging and I found a site where I can put in questions like this and get immediate feedback without wasting other people's time or feeding the ego's of elitist technocrats. I just typed this question there just now and was provided a listing of numerous sites with well-developed ideas and thorough explanations. You just gave me a large portion of my life back. Thanks! – Ian Felton Jul 12 '11 at 4:46
The point of directing you to the existing tag isn't to be disparaging or "technocratic" or say that you're wasting time. It's to make it easy to find what are essentially direct, already-there-for-you answers to your question. That, in addition to the answers given below, should be immediately helpful to you or to anyone else who comes along later. I'm not sure that really warrants the tone of your response. – mattdm Jul 12 '11 at 5:11
up vote 13 down vote accepted

While this isn't a duplicate, this can essentially be answered by linking to a few questions we've collected regarding other composition techniques (thanks largely to @JayLancePhotography!):

Searching the composition and composition-basics tag provides a wealth of knowledge.

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Apart from rules of thumb like the rule of thirds, there are mand general compositional principles which are generally the same in all art forms, things such as balance, space, pattern, texture, lines and shapes, light and shadow.

Very common compositional techniques in photography that I can think of

  • leading lines - leading the viewer's eye through the image
  • patterns, and I think even more importantly broken/interrupted patterns
  • selective focus or color (attracting attention to the subject by blurring/desaturating the background, I guess vignettes fall into this category
  • negative space
  • unusual perspectives - images of objects from a viewpoint not usually seen (ant's eye view of a flower or pet), extreme wide angle or tele shots
  • framing - leaving space in front of the subject if moving, or looking out of the picture
  • with wide angle images, having strong foreground interest
  • use of strong contrast, bright objects or bright colors to draw the viewer's eye
  • lines - diagonal lines and curves are more "dynamic", while vertical ines imply strenght and horizontal lines are more static and calming
  • horizon - generally should not be placed in the center of the image, either the foreground or sky should be given more space - one exception would be water reflections where dead center often works
  • in general the main subject should be off centre (rule of thirds or otherwise) but usually needs balancing by other objects
  • triangles generally make for strong compositions

I think the best images are ones the attract the eye even when looking at a small thumbnail, and you're not sure what the subject is, but the eye is attracted by a strong pattern, shape or color.

The article below is worth a read. It covers a lot of the above, and more.

Wikepedia article Composition

Also, you might want to look into Gestalt Theory, very relevant to photographic composition. For example here: PDF

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For interesting ways to break a rule, learn why the rule works and break it when you want to achieve opposite effect. For example, break the rule of odds when you want to stress symmetry and dullness of a scene.

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