Composition: How to Compose a Photograph

The Rule of Thirds & Other Composition Rules Explored

taught by
Tony Worobiec

Photography Composition Online Course - MyPhotoSchool

4 lessons
and start whenever you likeBuy as gift
Find out how easy it is to gift
  • Full money-back guarantee. See details.
  • Your purchase is secure. We never share your personal information.
  • Lifetime access to the classroom and course content
  • Purchase and learn from anywhere in the world

How our courses work▲ TOP

You're going to love learning with us!

  • After you buy, you can start the course whenever you're ready
  • You'll have 4 weeks to complete 4 lessons, study at your own pace
  • You'll likely need 2 1/2 hours per lesson, but you can study whenever it suits you
  • You'll get expert critique from your tutor Tony Worobiec (you'll be able to ask them questions too)
  • We'll pair you up with a group of like-minded classmates from around the world
  • You'll have access to the classroom, content and your classmates for life
  • You'll also gain certification

More questions? Take a look at our frequently asked questions.

About the course▲ TOP

Composition applies to all art forms and, while seeing parallels with writing or music might be stretching a point, issues that relate to other areas of the visual arts can also apply to photography. It certainly pays to look at how others design their work and in particular painters, graphic designers and film-makers. As a fledgling art form in the 19th century, photography specifically looked to the tradition of painting from where so many of the so called “rules” were drawn, although paradoxically many photographers fail to look at what contemporary painters are doing today. With the advent of Photoshop, the overlap between graphic design and photography is remarkable; look at some of the current advanced Photoshop technique magazines and you will struggle to discern which is which. It is also important to understand that photography should never operate in a vacuum and it helps to recognise that there are certain basic universal rules that apply to all aspects of the visual arts.

In this course, we will aim to cover many of the recognized guidelines relating to composition, starting with the much heralded rules of thirds, while also considering how psychology plays its part. Do not feel that you need to apply all the principles of composition, just be aware of them. Composition is important and no matter how technically perfect, without it your image will lack clarity. “Composition” means putting elements together, and while photographers do not enjoy the same freedom to construct the image in the same way as a painter or a graphic designer, cohesion is still needed if images are to have meaning. When composing, our aim is to direct the viewers eye to the parts of the image we consider important. We are also orchestrating the visual elements. The more familiar we are with these, the easier it is to compose. By understanding the psychological effects of line, shape, tone, colour, texture, scale and proportion we are able to construct our images with purpose and clarity.

 Week 1. A Conventional View of Composition. 

Composition is partly “cultural” and partly “psychological”; what I mean by cultural are those rules that are often discussed and reinforced in photographic magazines and form a common grounding for new-comers to photography. Many of these conventions have been drawn from a traditional understanding of the rules governing painting and have simply been appropriated for photography. They form a simple and useful set of guidelines that can be followed by most photographers. By understanding these basic rules, it is hoped that all photographers can apply them in most situations.

• Rule of Thirds and The Golden Section.
• The lead-in line.
• The Power of the diagonal line.
• The “Meandering” line.
• The Visual “Full-Stop”.
• Linking Foreground and Background.
• The Single focal Point.
• Even numbers, odd numbers?
• Matching elements within the composition.
• Using Frames.

Week 2. Understanding the Visual Elements.

To better understand composition, it does help to think in terms of the visual elements. By identifying line, tone, texture, pattern, rhythm, scale and perspective, the photographer is better able to use this to direct the viewer’s eye in a very purposeful way. You may have noticed that one very important visual element is missing, notably, colour; this is because colour has a universal emotive effect which is better discussed when considering the psychology of composition. This lesson will encourage the student to analyse the image from the point of view of the visual elements and help them to construct their photographs more purposefully.

• Using line in composition.
• Using Tone in composition.
• Understanding the value of a restricted tonal range.
• Understanding aerial perspective.
• Presenting colour in “shades of grey”
• When should a colour file be converted to monochrome?
• Placing the focal point in the area of highest contrast.
• Understanding and manipulating scale.
• Exploring texture.
• The value of pattern in composition.
• The importance of rhythm in composition.

Week 3. Psychology and the importance of intuition.

Something that is not always recognized, that is we are all capable of composing intuitively. Supported by the Gestalt theorists of the early 20th century, many now believe that we all have an innate capacity to design and that this should serve as the basis when composing. The rules outlined in “A Conventional View of Photography” work well with simpler, more-clear cut situations, but are difficult to apply when we are presented with more challenging scenarios. By understanding, or just being aware of the psychology under-pinning composition, photographers are prepared to consider more complex compositions. Essentially, if it looks right then it is right.

• Balance and counter-balance
• The dominant and the subordinate elements.
• The visual fulcrum.
• The emotive value of colours.
• Understanding “contrast” and “harmony”.
• Positive and Negative shapes.
• The silhouette.
• In splendid isolation.
• The emotive values of high key/ low key.
• The emotive value of using a restricted tonal range.

Week 4. Achieving Style through Composition.

It is very easy to see the rules governing photography in isolation from the other visual arts, but they all share the same common language. By looking at examples of the visual arts that exist outside one’s comfort zone, we are able to acquire new and exciting compositional strategies; these could be from areas of photography that are new to you, graphic design, painting or even tattoo art. By applying the same rules time after time, our photographs will appear predictable or boring. Try visiting an art gallery from time to time and see what new lessons can be learnt.

• Composing from one corner.
• Composing from diametrically opposite corners.
• The symmetrical design
• Working off-centre.
• Creating cohesion using reflections.
• The power of the negative space.
• Exploring Minimalism.
• The Abstract in Photography.
• Composing to the format being used.
• The value of cropping.
Find out more about how our online photography courses work

Lesson Plan▲ TOP

Each lesson starts with a 30 minute video from your expert tutor, which you can watch whenever you like.

After each lesson, practice what you’ve learned with an assignment and receive personalised feedback from your tutor. Each of which should take no longer than 2 hours.

  1. 1. Week 1. A Conventional View of Composition

  2. 2. Week 2. Understanding the Visual Elements.

  3. 3. Week 3. Psychology and the importance of intuition.

  4. 4. Week 4. Achieving Style through Composition.

See all students who have taken this course