Composing your subject in a photograph

During my education at two art academies in Holland I was trained to look at the composition of paintings and sculptures. That was a big advantage for me when I started making taking pictures.
In photography the usual rule of thumb is the rule of thirds. It’s a great rule to start with, but in this blogpost I will explain some other possibilities for composing a photograph.

1. Rule of thirds

rule of thirds

Divide the image in three equal parts both horizontally and vertically. Important areas are the four intersections on which you can place the most important part of the image. In the picture seen above one of the eyes is on such a crossing point.

And there are four lines that can be useful in positioning the elements of your composition. Have a look at the pictures below, you can use either one of the vertical or horizontal lines.

rule of thirds

rule of thirds in landscape

2. Symmetry

The easiest way to make a composition is symmetry. I call it the Catholic way, because the mass consists of symmetrical gestures and objects placed on either side on the altar. Pictures composed this way are peaceful and will have a quiet mood.


A clear example are these tiles. Less obvious is the image of the trees as a sample, but I guess you can still discover the symmetry in that picture.

3. Dynamic composition

Although I take a lot of symmetrical pictures, I think it is very interesting to look for a dynamic contrast. Possible contrasts are:

• full of details / empty space
• lots of color / monochrome
• dark / light

dynamic composition

In this picture of a boat you can see I have looked for a symmetrical composition, while using a dynamic contrast between the left and the right side.

4. Diagonal

diagonal composition

Usually a diagonal will make a composition dynamic, depending on the subject of course. If that subject is a frozen puddle, the image will be very peaceful.

5. Vanishing  point

A vanishing point will suck the viewer into the image and creates an enormous suggestion of depth. The purest way is to position the vanishing point exactly in the middle, but as you can imagine, this point can also be on the thirds-line.

vanishing point

vanishing point

6. No grid at all

Not every picture needs to follow one of the former composition rules. A lot of my pictures are textures of all kinds. They don’t have grids. Unless you desperately want to see a grid, in that case you may notice the diagonal From top-left to bottom-right in the yellow picture with the light playing on the fruits. 🙂

composing a photograph

7. Knowing the rules means you can break them

I am a strong supporter of knowing the rules, but that does not mean that you should follow the rules no matter what. Once you know them and mastered them, break them. (Uhm… concerning the composition, I mean).
The funny thing is, that I deliberatly broke the rule of thirds in this landscape and put the horizon extremely low, but when I drew the lines in order to show you, I discovered that the rule of thirds was in place after all!

composing a photograph

Good luck!


A lot of cameras have a display at the back or a viewfinder with the grid shown. It helps you to follow the rules or to disregard them. One way or the other, I am sure that if you take your pictures with these rules in mind, they will come out better than before. Good luck and please let me know if you have any questions. Put them in the commentbox below and I will gladly answer them.

2 thoughts on “Composing your subject in a photograph”

  1. Great information here. I know the rules but usually break them; it’s my photo and I do what I want! Your photo of the day is indeed inspiring.
    And yep, I have more questions again. I hope you don’t find them annoying and take them as a compliment to your ability to create, teach, and promote creativity.
    1.) I noticed on Squidoo you were able to put the copyright symbol by your photos. Did you do that with HTML? If not, how would one go about copyrighting an image?
    2.) I started writing on the Internet and don’t know much about any other blog sites. I am not very technologically advanced but I love the art of figuring out How Something Works. Would this site be a good one for blogging, my niche being my Photo Diary idea? It would be handy to have my own place to link pictures back to instead of relying on photobucket and the likes.
    I have the ability and the drive to use my skills of Creating.
    Thank you so much for what you have shared with the world.
    Yours Truly,

    • Hi Jes,
      1. Do you mean the copyrightsymbol © or do you mean my watermark?
      2. I made this website in WordPress. That’s not very complicated to work with. You can either start on (the address will be something like or you can install a wordpress-instllation on an own domain (the address will be something like
      I hope this helps.
      Take care,


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