I am looking for a good advanced reference about photographic/cinematographic composition rules. I have already checked this post:

Good books to learn photographic composition from?

but it doesn't look to be useful for me. What I am looking for is a book that describes in details the following rules: Rule of Thirds, Diagonal Dominance, Visual Balance, Depth of Field, and the like.

I already have a book about composition, Picture Composition for Film and Television, by Peter Ward, but it isn't very useful. For example, he defines the rules this way:

"The rule of thirds proposes that a useful starting point for any compositional grouping is to place the main subject of interest on any one of the four intersections made by two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines."

Obviously, this definition is a simplified one, because the rule of thirds also propose, for example, that prominent lines in the image should be parallel to the horizontal/vertical lines.

Briefly, I want a book that contains every composition rule I can think of :-)

Any suggestions?

  • It sounds to me like you're really looking for a "Complete Encyclopedia of Visual Composition in Photography", not just a good reference about composition. – mattdm Dec 13 '10 at 20:03
  • You could go a long way (and save money) by typing each of these things into Google Images. That's how I've learned about Rule of Thirds, Balance, etc. (I'm by no means an expert photographer, but my results improved 100% from my first outing to my next by just reading kenrockwell.com/tech/composition.htm, found through Google Images) – HiredMind Dec 13 '10 at 20:53
  • @mattdm, that would be even better ;-) But no, I just want a book containing the basic composition rules in details. – Promather Dec 14 '10 at 7:39
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    Forgive me, but this is beginning to sound like you want someone to have done your homework for you. If your paper needs references, then isn't it your job to go and find them? There are lots of suggestions below which will make your job easier, but you can't expect to have it handed to you on a plate. I would follow @John Cavan's suggestion start with Google Books. – AJ Finch Dec 14 '10 at 15:00
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    @Rafid, if you want to avoid buying books, perhaps your local library can help? They can often obtain books you need if you ask them. – AJ Finch Dec 17 '10 at 9:36

Have a look at "The Photographer's Eye". I found it superb and contains all the rules you can think of.


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  • Well, I already checked the index of this book for "Rule of Thirds", but found nothing, so I thought it is not what I want! – Promather Dec 13 '10 at 15:26
  • Some of the comments were discouraging: "A small word of advice though. This book is not purely intended to teach basic rules of photography (although the writer explains topics such as the rule of thirds and HDR) but it rather builds and expands on some existing knowledge and fine granulates the art of photography through composition and design with the utmost intent to help the user develop the skills to shoot great images." – Promather Dec 13 '10 at 15:44
  • While I can't recommend this book enough, I don't think it's intended to be the sort of encyclopedia-of-schools-of-thought that the questioner seems to be looking for. – mattdm Dec 13 '10 at 18:26
  • @mattdm, why don't you recommend this book? For me, the comment I quoted above made me feel it is not about the basics. Do you have another reason why not to recommend it? – Promather Dec 14 '10 at 7:41
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    I do recommend it, very strongly. But it's not a list-oriented reference. It contains a lot of excellent information and helpful ways to think about making photographs, but it's not "every composition rule [one] can think of". – mattdm Dec 14 '10 at 13:03

Ah, you may be barking up the wrong tree when it comes to understanding composition and images as, after all, there are visual arts that were here long before photography ever was such as: painting. Ignore the title in that link, it's not what it seems, and the principles of composition for painting equally apply to photography, which is also true of drawing. The low-tech world of images has a lot of history on us photographic types, we have quite a few thousand years to catch up in experience... :)

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  • I checked the book on Aamzon, but there is no table of contents :( – Promather Dec 14 '10 at 7:54
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    Google, or more specifically Google Books, is your friend. – John Cavan Dec 14 '10 at 11:34

After reading some of the other answers and comments, I think what you need is actually a library. Not just the books, but the services of a reference-desk librarian. Because, basically, librarians are awesome, and this is what they're there for.

Since this seems to be for a school paper, your university library is a great place to start. Even if they don't have the specific books you're looking for, they may be able to find some by inter-library loan, or they may even be able to provide just the references you need.

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I enjoyed David duChemin's "Drawing the Eye" ebook.

Available here: http://craftandvision.com/books/drawing-the-eye/

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  • The problem with this book is that I don't find it on Amazon or Google Scholar, so I can't cite it in my paper. – Promather Dec 14 '10 at 7:59
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    @Rafid: Why wouldn't you be able to cite it? It is still on the internet, an eBook with its own page even...would think that would be ideal for citation. – jrista Dec 15 '10 at 1:40
  • @jrista, I don't know actually, I just never saw an academic paper citing a web page. What if the site or ebook get removed? In my humble opinion, I think it is not a good idea to cite sites or ebooks yet, because the idea of citing is that we build our works on each other, so I would rather build my work on something well established rather than just a web page or unpublished ebook. Also, what if the contents are incorrect? With a published book, I am safe because the book author will be blamed, but with an ebook or a site, I will be blamed for depending on it. What do you think? – Promather Dec 18 '10 at 18:36
  • All I can say is that I have read plenty of academic and scientific papers that are littered with citations from books and the internet. Particularly in the scientific realm, citations often make use of citation aggregators or well-established organizations, and standards sites like IEEE, ECMA, ISO, etc. Sure, there is more volatility with internet-based references, however it IS a tremendous resource with far more information than books. – jrista Dec 19 '10 at 8:17

While not directed for photographers, you may want to check Rudolf Arnheim's Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, a book about the motives behind our perception of images and the way compostion works from the observer point of view.

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  • This one seems to be good, but there is still no table of contents :( Do you have the table of contents to share? And are you sure it contains the basic composition rules with details?! – Promather Dec 14 '10 at 8:12

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