3 Golden Rules of Composition

A Canadian Forces member firing a Carl Gustav rocket launcher.

It's all about composition.

A number of weeks back I taught a course on the fundamentals of photography and DSLR.  During the class I covered the subject of composition and specifically detailed the rule of thirds as one of the strongest techniques by which to draw attention to a subject. 

The Rule of Thirds

If you don't know what the Rule of Thirds is, it involves taking the subject(s) of interest and instead of placing them dead center you imagine two vertical lines and two horizontal lines intersecting the image perfectly into thirds like this:


An example of the rule of thirds


Then simply place the subject(s) along those lines or at one of the intersections and voila: the subject gets more attention (usually).  Here's an overlay of the lines on an image I shot in Valcartier, Quebec earlier this year:


An overlaid example of the rule of thirds on a photo of a member of the Canadian Armed Forces firing a Carl Gustav


See how the missile and weapon align perfectly along the top line?  How the intersection meets at the person firing the weapon, and how the right vertical line goes up and down the body?  For more examples of the rule of thirds I'd suggest reading THIS or THIS

Anyways, back to the story, a couple of weeks after the class one of the students contacted me about a photo I posted on the website that really drew her eye but didn't use the rule.  Here's the picture:


She's entirely right, with the subject (the face of the ring) being where it is in the photo it does not lie directly on any line or intersection that would qualify it for the rule of thirds.  However I was not trying to apply that rule for this image.  What I hadn't discussed in the course is some of the alternatives to the rule of thirds.  In this particular image I had employed something that worked with both the “Golden Triangle,” and the, “Golden Ratio.”

The Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle looks a bit like the Rule of Thirds meets the end of a game of Jenga.  Imagine a line running at an angle directly from one corner to the opposite corner of an image.  Then imagine one or two more lines (depends on your desire) running perfectly perpendicular to that first line originating from the other corner(s) of the image.  Here's an overlay of the Golden Triangle over the image of the rings:


An overlay of the Golden Triangle over a shot of an engagement ring and wedding band


See how the intersection hits the center of the ring?  That's me employing the Golden Triangle in setting the shot up.  This rule works particularly well if you have an image that features many diagonal lines, or has a dramatic contrast of elements in the different zones on either side of the lines.

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio is based on Fibonacci's sequence, and it occurs everywhere in nature.  From flower petals, to hurricane clouds, to seashells, the spiral is a very specific ratio to the spiral and it looks like this overlaid onto my rings photo:


An overlay of the Golden Ratio over a shot of an engagement ring and wedding band


When using Fibonacci's ratio you can trail a great many things along the spiraling line, or simply put the subject at the center of the spiral (the ring face in this case), either one can be played upon effectively to draw the viewer in. 

There are so many more rules than these, but if you haven't tried shooting with them, I'd definitely suggest you get out and give it a go!

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