When shooting a photo with two persons in the foreground and an out of focus/blurred background (no objects apart of the couple), what is the proper composition to place them?


I made this simple sketch (using the original photo by Jim Heine, but not limiting to):

enter image description here

On example 1, I considered both persons as one whole subject and placed it to the right center of the rule of thirds.

On example 2, I centered them on the image, resulting with each person having their own line of the rule of thirds.

On example 3, I placed them at the center of both example 1 and 2, averaging the position.

Which would be the proper, if any of above, composition when shooting two persons?

Furthermore, should the persons be smaller in size relative to the whole image, so that their heads are on the top line of the rule of thirds, or is this size correct?

  • 1
    Your sketches are missing a critical background element: the fence. The fence draws your eye into the right two thirds of the picture, which is essentially square.
    – Blrfl
    Sep 17, 2012 at 13:27
  • I think I'm going to erase the original picture, as the fence shouldn't really be important to generalize this.
    – Frantisek
    Sep 17, 2012 at 13:28
  • Maybe, but that picture was beautifully composed (and exposed!).
    – camflan
    Sep 17, 2012 at 13:29
  • Now that I think about it, if my goal were to get only the couple, I'd compose it vertically. Then you can follow the rule of thirds all you like. Losing the fence and the barn would really rob the image of a lot of context.
    – Blrfl
    Sep 17, 2012 at 15:25
  • 1
    There isn't a proper composition, but there are probably some approaches that are generally more effective than others.
    – mattdm
    Sep 18, 2012 at 11:02

4 Answers 4


Any of those diagrams are great! So is the 500px one. Which you choose will change each time, and depending on the location, light, background, mood, and what you're communicating.

There isn't one way to shoot a couple portrait. I quite like the composition on the picture you linked to. Couple is in the right 60% of the frame, and the split rail fence and the highlights lead the eye right to the woman's face.

Aside from "Rule of Thirds" composition, there is also "Golden Ratio", and there is always room to break the rules!

Don't get caught up too much in following the rules of composition at the expense of a beautiful picture.

  • Edited my question.
    – Frantisek
    Sep 17, 2012 at 13:29
  • My answer isn't going to change :)
    – camflan
    Sep 17, 2012 at 13:31
  • 1
    I never said it should.
    – Frantisek
    Sep 17, 2012 at 13:31

It's an almost entirely personal thing. The "rules" tell you what usually works, but any number of non-standard arrangements may work for a few or some or many or most people for reasons that the rules do not cover.

In this case I personally do not overly like the arrangement either, BUT that doesn't mean that its wrong, just that I may have done it differently for personal reasons. And any number of internationally recognised judges MAY have liked it as it is. My opinion doesn't count for much :-).

In this case I do not think that you can attempt to analyse the image without at least acknowledging the railings on the left. The photographer almost certainly intends that the line of vision or attention will be 'drawn' by the railings towards the character at left. For me that does not work well BUT pre-mentioned internationally recognised judges may think otherwise for reasons that are not as yet wholly obvious to me. (If they were I might be one :-).

To my eye the image is under-saturated, the lighting on the lady's dress creates a strange see-through effect which is not actually real (looks literally as if she has legs up to her waist) and the fence is in the wrong place to be an eye-leader. BUT others may well think otherwise.

FWIW, if I'd been producing this image I'd have either cropped the fence (squarish image) or if I had to maintain a landscape aspect ratio, included scenery at right to more centre the characters, as per your example 2. Slightly more headroom or smaller characters may have provided a slightly better visual effect, but I'd hesitate to try and fit it to "rule of thirds" terminology.

FWIW, again, and it's personal, I tend to almost consciously ask "Does this fit rule of thirds after I've framed it as I like it. If not, would moving it towards rule of thirds make me like it more". If yes/- then so much the better. If yes/yes then I may well change it. If yes/no then odds are I'll leave rule of thirds compulsions to others and leave it the way I like.


Like everything, I suspect you need to treat the 'rules' as suggestions or best practices, not strict formula. This is because the answer is: It depends.

It really depends on the composition, influenced by what is going on in the composition. If there is nothing but the couple (ie, a portrait session with black background, then Example 2 will likely look best. But, if there is any other scenery, even blurred, you may choose a different composition: sunset, mountains, a tree or fence might influence the composition, to bring the element into the context of the image.


Adding to the other excellent answers: People are not the only elements you can center in your 2/3 grid.

You can also center details from the background (sunset, tree) or details in your subjects (braid, eyes, sun flare through hair).

Do experiment all you can. Then find what you like most.

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