Four Rules of Photographic Composition - Digital Photography School

Four Rules of Photographic Composition

Before I dove head first into the world of photography (there was no toe-in-the water transition period for me), I hadn’t ever considered or learned about composition. I thought it only had something to do with painting. If I was going to take pictures of real life, I didn’t imagine that I would be saying to the man running for the bus, “excuse me, could you please step into this third here?” I disregarded composition entirely. Then there came a point where I began intuitively setting my manual settings without much thought. I was suddenly left with loads of time on my hands while shooting to, not necessarily bother my subjects with moving around in a scene, but to move myself appropriately and be quick enough to catch something in the split second when it was naturally well composed.

So if you are like me and you haven’t yet considered composition, here are a few rules to get you going. Naturally, rules are made to be broken. But you can’t break the rules until you have mastered them. More on that another time. Here are four hard and fast rules of composition I can’t live without:

Thirds – This may be the most widely known rule of composition among photographers. There’s even an option in most DSLRs to switch on a visual grid in your viewfinder. This rule states that for an image to be visually interesting, the main focus of the image needs to lie along one of the lines marked in thirds. For example, according to this rule, a horizon shouldn’t be smack bang in the middle of a photo, but on the bottom third. A single tree in a field should be aligned with one of the two vertical lines.

Rule of odds – The rule of odds states that images are more visually appealing when there is an odd number of subjects. For example, if you are going to place more than one person in a photograph, don’t use two, use 3 or 5 or 7, etc. Of course this is a pretty silly notion for an engagement shoot, right? Or a wedding shoot. Or a family with only two kids. But when possible, when you are not just shooting real life but composing images (still life, family groups, flowers) remember the rule of odds. Studies have shown that people are actually more at ease and comfort when viewing imagery with an odd number of subjects. I’d be very interested to know the different opinions readers have for why that is. I’ll share mine in the comments below.

Rule of space – I used to get this rule mixed up with the rule of thirds. The rule of space probably comes naturally to you and you don’t even know it’s a rule of composition. The rule of space says that in order to portray movement, context and the idea that the photo is bigger than just the part that you’re seeing, you need to leave clutter free ‘white’ spaces. For example if you’re photographing a runner, give him a space to run into. Don’t photograph him with all the space in the world behind him because this doesn’t help the viewer  picture the forward motion & the space he has yet to run. If you’re making a portrait of a woman laughing at something not in the photo, leave space in the direction where she is laughing. This leads the viewer to wonder what’s just beyond the boundaries of the photo. What is she laughing at? The reason I got this mixed up with the rule of thirds is that naturally, when giving your subjects space, they will be placed in a third of the photo.

Viewpoint – Often referred to as POV, point of view is the most basic of composition rules. And it’s as simple as clicking the shutter. You are  your viewer. Your camera is their eye. If you photograph a dog at eye level, your viewer will be viewing the dog at eye level (which gives the idea/feeling of equality). If you photograph a dog from below, your viewer will be seeing the dog from below (a low shot gives the notion of dominance). If you photograph a dog from above, you are projecting a feeling of your viewer’s superiority in relation to the dog.

What’s your favourite rule of composition? What goes through your head each and every time you compose a shot?

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Elizabeth Halford is a Hampshire Photographer and keeps a rockin'photography blog where she writes about photography and business in "real.plain.english". She's addicted to Facebook and can be found answering photography and business questions every day here on her page

  • Anonymous

    DI1337: Just in case you didn’t know, on the camera menu the rule of thirds helper is called Grid or grid lines. because I’m pretty sure he is right about most cameras having that especially slr

  • http://www.evelayn.deviantart.com evelayn

    Thanks for the post! It’s great to know that there is such a thing as the Rule of Odds. I had always thought that having 3 friends in a picture looks better than just two. However coming from an oriental (Asian) background, there is a customary taboo that warns us to avoid having 3 persons in a picture at any time. We are made to believe that if we do it, their relationship will be severed or some really bad stuffs will befall on either one of them .

    Never thought of having any kind of superstition even in photography, right? :-)

  • http://www.bytcafoto.yolasite.com jon

    I think the rule of odds applies because the shape of the camera frame is 4 sides, perhaps if the frame of a camera was a triangle the rule of evens would apply ?

  • Bob

    As most are aware, there are other aspects of composition that come into play. Typically, when used in a group, odd numbers create triangles. Triangles create focal points. Such as when one shoots a family group. With either an inverted “V” or a pyramid alignment or diagonal alignment. When you shoot an engagement photo, typically, the groom will be shown taller than the bride. (not ALWAYS, but most of the time) this creates a diagonal line. Putting the groom taller and to the left or right places him in a “protective” stance. Even posing can effect the issue of point of view…..
    Look back at the image of the woman and child, above. Imagine a line from her face to the child’s. This causes the viewer’s eye to travel from the woman to the child, which is what the photographer is trying to convey. But here we only have 2 subjects. It works because the child’s face is on the upper third line, and the woman’s is on the left third line. Believe it or not the child’s right hand sticking out creates a third element in the shot creating a triangle with the face. So maybe we should be thinking in terms of form and angles, rather than in terms of “subjects”
    Not to be picky here, but remember, sometimes it is possible to break the rules and still use other rules of composition and get good effect. ;-)

    I do not agree that every photo should “tell a story” I believe every photo should have one or both of two different purposes, either to convey a story, or to convey a feeling or emotion. Some shots can convey both, obviously.

  • http://www.alkimphotography.com allan

    In response to “nobody” comment.

    “My (figurative) eye seems to be a bit off when judging for thirds. Usually I end up with something at the right or left quarter, or much closer to the center (which is much more often). Or in vertical orientation, usually within the middle third.”

    You are most likely composing to the golden mean rule, which is the more exact rule than the “rule of thirds” which has been taken from it. The golden mean is derived from nature, and is the more visually pleasing, however we are not inclined to teach it, as students eyes glaze over when you try and explain it to them. The simpler rule of thirds is close enough. I’m guessing the reason you are getting the golden mean is that you are composing more intuitively. This is a good thing. Trust you feelings before your thoughts.

  • Wayne Christensen

    FWIW,
    The numbver 1 is not a prime #
    wc

  • meeyah

    hi! i also heard of the divine proportion or the golden ratio. so how does that one work?

  • http://darsam.spaces.live.com David Stringham

    I prefer to call the “Rule of Space” as the use of positive/negative space. Also, I like to create ‘balanced’ compositions where, for instance, an object on one side of the frame is given equal ‘weight’ to an object on the other side.

  • R.B.Pednekar.

    These four rules of composition are basically applied, however here what discussed about these rules helps to understand more by photographers and to help to make the pictures more interesting. Thanks for discussiuons.

  • Siva

    I realy love the rule of odds. The rest i have heard and i use when i photograph, but this one i never.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderfull ideas.

  • http://Www.downeast.com/blogs/coffeewiththat Trover

    An adjunct to the rule of odds, and also an important factor in Zen/Japanese design tradition, is a principle called “occult symmetry.” This is hard to explain succinctly, but the basic idea can be seen in Pochicho’s picture of a flower, above.

    At first glance, the image looks strongly asymmetrical. That us to say, the objective “mass” of the objects in the photo is heavily weighted toward the right side of the image. And yet it’s clear to anyone pausing to look at this image that it actually has a pleasing sense of balance. Everything just feels right. It isn’t symmetry in the conventional sense, but it feels balanced nonetheless.

    One way to explain or to think about this is to consider ALL of the elements presented to the eye. The blossom in full bloom is pretty obvious, but there are two others: the sprawling organic mass of green plant material, and the visually strong blue sky — which, its way, has even more visual weight than the flower itself. This may be seen conventionally as “empty” space, but really it’s full and rich and saturated with a unified visual element: the color blue.

    So here we’ve got the rule of odds — plant, flower, sky — at work, and also the idea of an occult or “hidden” symmetry, because the tension between these elements is so beautifully distributed that we are left with a pleasing sense of balance. Yet this kind of balance is so much more dynamic than the familiar kind of symmetry. You feel an energy in this photo (as in most really good photos) even though it’s not immediately obvious where the energy is coming from.

    My own feeling is that many of these rules are handy guidelines to help us achieve this same elusive goal: creating an image that seems full of energy, alive somehow, containing both tension and balance, despite being trapped and frozen within the four “walls” of a photograph. The idea of a Zen garden is really instructive. When it works, it’s magical. At the highest level, even transcendent.

  • Subhagata Singha

    about the rule of odds, my guess is that people tend to look for a central subject…in the sense there is a single subject which has an even number of objects surrounding it…that central subject could be any of the objects…

    it’s like saying, number of objects= 2n+1 (where n is a whole number??) where 2n things are being kept in balance while 1 is keeping them in balance…

  • ptrlim

    there are lots of things that make great pictures out of breaking the rules. I myself usually take pictures on a subject at least 4 times. just put it in every angle possible. then after all you will have one great out of the several you took on the subjects. and it’ s sometimes not on the rules but on the eyes of the man behind hte camera…but basically for the begginer we can stick to the 4 rules….

  • robert

    Hi, all the tips are are excellent, Question most brides love having a picture taken of their hands shown the ring, where is the best place to position the ring or the hands to get the best efect. How should one position the fingers? I like using the thirds idea, but is it correct?
    Can someone offer help>

  • ratkellar

    3 dimensions — 3 allows a flat image to obtain depth.
    It takes 3 points to create a triangle — 2 supporting the third point.
    The viewer counts — for each person to make a pair, individuals want to join a group with an odd number.

  • http://www.mikehouge.typepad.com MikeH

    I capture a lot of floral images in the summer- do you have any suggestions for placement of flowers when there’s only two- as I will often come across that situation. Follow the rule of thirds or is there a better suggestion. Great article and follow ups- thanks

Some older comments

  • MikeH

    March 15, 2013 05:39 am

    I capture a lot of floral images in the summer- do you have any suggestions for placement of flowers when there's only two- as I will often come across that situation. Follow the rule of thirds or is there a better suggestion. Great article and follow ups- thanks

  • ratkellar

    November 28, 2011 12:08 pm

    3 dimensions -- 3 allows a flat image to obtain depth.
    It takes 3 points to create a triangle -- 2 supporting the third point.
    The viewer counts -- for each person to make a pair, individuals want to join a group with an odd number.

  • robert

    November 23, 2011 08:12 pm

    Hi, all the tips are are excellent, Question most brides love having a picture taken of their hands shown the ring, where is the best place to position the ring or the hands to get the best efect. How should one position the fingers? I like using the thirds idea, but is it correct?
    Can someone offer help>

  • ptrlim

    September 29, 2011 10:51 am

    there are lots of things that make great pictures out of breaking the rules. I myself usually take pictures on a subject at least 4 times. just put it in every angle possible. then after all you will have one great out of the several you took on the subjects. and it' s sometimes not on the rules but on the eyes of the man behind hte camera...but basically for the begginer we can stick to the 4 rules....

  • Subhagata Singha

    September 1, 2011 01:01 am

    about the rule of odds, my guess is that people tend to look for a central subject...in the sense there is a single subject which has an even number of objects surrounding it...that central subject could be any of the objects...

    it's like saying, number of objects= 2n+1 (where n is a whole number??) where 2n things are being kept in balance while 1 is keeping them in balance...

  • Trover

    October 24, 2010 01:08 am

    An adjunct to the rule of odds, and also an important factor in Zen/Japanese design tradition, is a principle called "occult symmetry." This is hard to explain succinctly, but the basic idea can be seen in Pochicho's picture of a flower, above.

    At first glance, the image looks strongly asymmetrical. That us to say, the objective "mass" of the objects in the photo is heavily weighted toward the right side of the image. And yet it's clear to anyone pausing to look at this image that it actually has a pleasing sense of balance. Everything just feels right. It isn't symmetry in the conventional sense, but it feels balanced nonetheless.

    One way to explain or to think about this is to consider ALL of the elements presented to the eye. The blossom in full bloom is pretty obvious, but there are two others: the sprawling organic mass of green plant material, and the visually strong blue sky -- which, its way, has even more visual weight than the flower itself. This may be seen conventionally as "empty" space, but really it's full and rich and saturated with a unified visual element: the color blue.

    So here we've got the rule of odds -- plant, flower, sky -- at work, and also the idea of an occult or "hidden" symmetry, because the tension between these elements is so beautifully distributed that we are left with a pleasing sense of balance. Yet this kind of balance is so much more dynamic than the familiar kind of symmetry. You feel an energy in this photo (as in most really good photos) even though it's not immediately obvious where the energy is coming from.

    My own feeling is that many of these rules are handy guidelines to help us achieve this same elusive goal: creating an image that seems full of energy, alive somehow, containing both tension and balance, despite being trapped and frozen within the four "walls" of a photograph. The idea of a Zen garden is really instructive. When it works, it's magical. At the highest level, even transcendent.

  • Siva

    August 17, 2010 01:03 pm

    I realy love the rule of odds. The rest i have heard and i use when i photograph, but this one i never.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderfull ideas.

  • R.B.Pednekar.

    August 11, 2010 04:18 am

    These four rules of composition are basically applied, however here what discussed about these rules helps to understand more by photographers and to help to make the pictures more interesting. Thanks for discussiuons.

  • David Stringham

    August 8, 2010 07:57 am

    I prefer to call the "Rule of Space" as the use of positive/negative space. Also, I like to create 'balanced' compositions where, for instance, an object on one side of the frame is given equal 'weight' to an object on the other side.

  • meeyah

    August 7, 2010 10:57 pm

    hi! i also heard of the divine proportion or the golden ratio. so how does that one work?

  • Wayne Christensen

    August 7, 2010 12:45 pm

    FWIW,
    The numbver 1 is not a prime #
    wc

  • allan

    August 7, 2010 08:28 am

    In response to “nobody” comment.

    "My (figurative) eye seems to be a bit off when judging for thirds. Usually I end up with something at the right or left quarter, or much closer to the center (which is much more often). Or in vertical orientation, usually within the middle third."

    You are most likely composing to the golden mean rule, which is the more exact rule than the “rule of thirds” which has been taken from it. The golden mean is derived from nature, and is the more visually pleasing, however we are not inclined to teach it, as students eyes glaze over when you try and explain it to them. The simpler rule of thirds is close enough. I’m guessing the reason you are getting the golden mean is that you are composing more intuitively. This is a good thing. Trust you feelings before your thoughts.

  • Bob

    August 7, 2010 02:39 am

    As most are aware, there are other aspects of composition that come into play. Typically, when used in a group, odd numbers create triangles. Triangles create focal points. Such as when one shoots a family group. With either an inverted "V" or a pyramid alignment or diagonal alignment. When you shoot an engagement photo, typically, the groom will be shown taller than the bride. (not ALWAYS, but most of the time) this creates a diagonal line. Putting the groom taller and to the left or right places him in a "protective" stance. Even posing can effect the issue of point of view.....
    Look back at the image of the woman and child, above. Imagine a line from her face to the child's. This causes the viewer's eye to travel from the woman to the child, which is what the photographer is trying to convey. But here we only have 2 subjects. It works because the child's face is on the upper third line, and the woman's is on the left third line. Believe it or not the child's right hand sticking out creates a third element in the shot creating a triangle with the face. So maybe we should be thinking in terms of form and angles, rather than in terms of "subjects"
    Not to be picky here, but remember, sometimes it is possible to break the rules and still use other rules of composition and get good effect. ;-)

    I do not agree that every photo should "tell a story" I believe every photo should have one or both of two different purposes, either to convey a story, or to convey a feeling or emotion. Some shots can convey both, obviously.

  • jon

    August 6, 2010 06:45 pm

    I think the rule of odds applies because the shape of the camera frame is 4 sides, perhaps if the frame of a camera was a triangle the rule of evens would apply ?

  • evelayn

    August 6, 2010 04:36 pm

    Thanks for the post! It's great to know that there is such a thing as the Rule of Odds. I had always thought that having 3 friends in a picture looks better than just two. However coming from an oriental (Asian) background, there is a customary taboo that warns us to avoid having 3 persons in a picture at any time. We are made to believe that if we do it, their relationship will be severed or some really bad stuffs will befall on either one of them .

    Never thought of having any kind of superstition even in photography, right? :-)

  • Anonymous

    August 6, 2010 11:06 am

    DI1337: Just in case you didn't know, on the camera menu the rule of thirds helper is called Grid or grid lines. because I'm pretty sure he is right about most cameras having that especially slr

  • Budi

    August 6, 2010 10:47 am

    I agree with the rule of odd, it makes subject more attractive/

  • Shane

    August 6, 2010 09:56 am

    I don't understand the last rule - of View (point of view).
    Is there a preferable? Or are you mentioning the different views that exist, and for photographers to be aware and select appropriate views based on the scene?

  • Ian Cossar

    August 6, 2010 08:21 am

    I have found that having the grid lines displayed in the viewfinder is a great asset when taking seascapes and beach scenes - helping to keep the horizon straight and the sky in correct proportion to the rest of the scene. I often find that it helps me think about the composition of the shot. As a result, I sometimes decide not to press the shutter after all! Very helpful article - the basic 'rules' of composition need to be something every photographer is aware of - even if they don't use them. Thanks again.

  • Mewsie

    August 6, 2010 08:19 am

    I think we prefer looking at images with an odd number of subjects because our consciousness can inject itself into the story or the feel of the photo better if is sees the group of objects is incomplete. Most shapes considered perfect are multiples of 2. the squeare has 4 sides, the circle has 360 degrees, and a diameter splits it in two... the triangle is a mystical symbol exactly because the 3 corners are inviting the human watcher to join in, come close, not run away.

    We say 3 is company, a peeping Tom looking at a couple having sex feels guilty because he KNOWS he does not blong there...

    Emotionally, we feel like we are more accepted and acknowledged by odd/numbered groups because it takes 2 people to have a conversation.

    I do not think our preference for odd numbers has to do only with geometry and visual rules, but also with the way our brain understands the world. It is constantly analyzing stimuli, looking for clues on what will benefit us and what will not. We do not get emotionally involved with things that do not concern us or that can exist in perfect balance without us too. There has to be something in it for us as well, and not because our brains are programmed to work as megalomaniacs, but because they are effective and search for the experiences that will bring us the most.

    I know it might sound like a wacky theory, but it is what I think.

  • Jose margulis

    August 6, 2010 04:55 am

    The rule of odds is ancient multicultural general design rule and the most comprehensive explanation comes from Japanese Buddhist monks in their zen garden design traditions where rocks are always use in odd numbers in order to create what is called "dynamic tension" or "dynamic balance" which is define by the idea that things are balance but on an edge and this idea underlines the ephemeral nature of life.
    I don't want to make this too long but there is an additional connected rule to this that is much more subtle and requires an even more develop sensitivity and is related to the size of each of the odd number objects in relationship with each other plus......please excuse me for making it so complex, the chromatic qualitites of each object since these are key in the perceived size and relative weight of objects in a group

  • Manny

    August 6, 2010 04:18 am

    I, like a lot of people here, have never heard of the rule of odds, but I find it fascinating. I will definitely try the concept and compare to see the difference. It's funny that this has come out and I'm glad it did. You definitely learn something new everyday. Unfortunately, I came from a country where there's a lot of superstitions. Many of my subjects, when I'm taking a group photo of three people, would ask for an extra person or would request one of them not to be included. The way the story goes, if a picture is taken of 3 people, the person in the middle will die unexpectedly, much sooner than the other two. So, not only do they not want to have 3 people in the shot, no one also would want to be in the middle between the other two. Funny and strange. However, I have managed to convince many of my subjects that there is no truth to this non-sense and have taken a lot of great group portraits this way. Thanks for posting about the Rule of Odds....

  • Thomas Eriksen

    August 6, 2010 03:58 am

    “Studies have shown that people are actually more at ease and comfort when viewing imagery with an odd number of subjects. I’d be very interested to know the different opinions readers have for why that is.”

    My guess (without giving much thought to it).

    People feel safe in numbers and with similarity - hence why social proof works ("everyone does it - therefore it must be right"). Since people always look for patterns it is harder to split and divide odd numbers into a pattern / several groups - instead odd number enhance the one-group-feeling.

    Since we are then left with that odd numbers create one-group-feeling and the whole group is equal (same flowers, etc) it is comfortable and pleasing to us since we interpreter it as "right" (ref social proof).

    Comments?

  • tantri

    August 6, 2010 03:47 am

    I am actually familiar with the rule of odds in relations to writing. When you list things in a writing composition you always go with the odd, with the smallest number being three eg. Red, white and blue; men, women and children; cupcakes, buttercakes and tiramizus; etc. I believe people say it gives a sense of something more than just two objects, but without the clutter of naming all the objects.

    I didn't know that it also applies to photography. But it makes sense.

  • David Mulligan

    August 6, 2010 03:44 am

    I don't see why the Rules of Thirds and the Rule of Space don't work well together. Am I confused?

  • Lon

    August 6, 2010 03:03 am

    Bri, actually I've done some thinking about my comment, and the fact that I missed the prime number 2 in my sequence of primes...

    As the rule of odds can often make an exception when there are two subjects that naturally pair up to become the one main emphasis (such as bride and groom, parent and child etc), so does the sequence of primes make an exception for this one even number...

    Generally, while demonstrating the rule of odds we see examples of photos with either 1,3, or 5 subjects in the frame since too many subjects can obviously be a huge distraction... beyond that though, for busier photos I think the grouping of subjects (e.g. symmetry) still affects the aesthetic quality and ability to emphasize a particular part of the image. Take the number nine, which of course is the smallest composite number that is also odd - and compare that to an image with 7 or 11 subjects (11 separate and distinct subjects is a lot for a viewer to take in but forces the viewer to take the time to analyze) whereas with 9 subjects a viewer will tend to put them into three groups of three - a good composer would attempt to influence how the viewer does so, but with an indivisible number of subjects that doesn't become part of the story.

    The more I think about it, the more "rule of odds" really is the "rule of primes", at least in my mind. (who came up with the "official" rules anyway :)

  • Long

    August 6, 2010 03:01 am

    The Rule of Odds can also be in conflict culturally with your subject... some people, especially older asian people, find that having an odd number of people in the photo is very ominous and full of bad luck.

  • Pochicho

    August 6, 2010 02:47 am

    I think the rule of thirds is not clearly explained here. This rule establishes that the subjet must be placed in one of the intersections among the vertical and horizontal lines.
    You can see it clearly in this example:
    http://imgs1.dzoom.org.es/dzdn/img/1108/regla-tercios-fotografia.jpg
    The subject placed there captures the whole atention of the beholder.
    Sorry for my english! I hope you can understand me!
    Greetings from Argentina!

  • Pochicho

    August 6, 2010 02:46 am

    I think the rule of thirds is not clearly explained here. This rule establishes that the subjet must be placed in one of the intersections among the vertical and horizontal lines.
    You can see it clearly in this example:
    http://imgs1.dzoom.org.es/dzdn/img/1108/regla-tercios-fotografia.jpg
    The subject placed there captures the whole atention of the beholder.
    Sorry for my english! I hope you can understand me!
    Greetings from Argentina!
    [eimg url='http://imgs1.dzoom.org.es/dzdn/img/1108/regla-tercios-fotografia.jpg' title='regla-tercios-fotografia.jpg']

  • Josué Plante

    August 6, 2010 02:42 am

    @dl1337

    I have been working with a D70, D80, D90, D200 and D300s and they all have the Grid Display option.
    I guess you should have a look at your manual !

    Never heard of the rule of odds either, but find it really interesting !

  • Tim

    August 6, 2010 02:24 am

    I've tended to relax my compositions of late and this has spurred me to get a little more creative again.

  • Deborah

    August 6, 2010 02:06 am

    @dl1337 The D700 does indeed have a grid in the viewfinder option- d2 in you menu.

    My favorite two rules are the The Odds rule which I learned in flower arranging of all places, and the The rule of Thirds! This is another carry over rule I got from Sketching and Drawing.

  • Ksenia

    August 5, 2010 05:57 pm

    Interesting rules. Should keep them in mind next time.

    I personally follow two rules I learned from my mother, an artist. Those are "Study classic art to master your sense of composition" and "Never ever cut feet or hands unless it's absolutely necessary". Everything else is a matter of taste.

  • Colleen

    August 5, 2010 06:32 am

    @jeroen: Wow! Thanks for the link to the article on the "diagonal method." Fascinating!

    A lot of my photography has gotten stale from sticking to these well-known rules. Recently I've been breaking them more frequently.

  • Bri

    August 5, 2010 05:30 am

    "Studies have shown that people are actually more at ease and comfort when viewing imagery with an odd number of subjects. I’d be very interested to know the different opinions readers have for why that is.”
    My guess is that it has to do with a subconscious awareness of primes (moreso than simply odd numbers) – indivisible numbers provide a naturally defined subject, when we introduce multiples we are overpopulating an image with unecessary subjects and lose focus on the narrative we are trying to convey.
    1,3,5,7,11,13,17,19,23,29,31,37,41,43 etc."

    I disagree with this opinion, as 2 is also a prime number....

  • Jason Collin Photography

    August 5, 2010 03:56 am

    The rule of odds is one I really like and have to remember to be aware of more myself. If doing a family shoot and there are four family members, I always say, "hey let's get one with just one parent and the two kids," or something like that. The third photo in this portrait blog post illustrates my "suggestion" of just one parent and the kids, in this case just the two small children:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/7/10/martineau-candid-family-sunset-beach-portraits-florida.html

  • Zack Jones

    August 5, 2010 02:40 am

    @jeni: just because your 5D doesn't have a grid built in doesn't mean you can't find a focus point that is close to aligning using the rule of thirds. Check out this blog post I recently wrote: http://cameraguyzack.blogspot.com/2010/07/rule-of-thirds-with-canon-rebel-t2i.html I think the 5D has a similar layout for its focus points.

    Also, you can buy a different focusing screen for the 5D which will display a grid; however the grid is really designed for cropping but it can help you when composing your image.

  • Kim P

    August 5, 2010 02:36 am

    Great article and guidelines. I, too, am familiar with the rule of odds from a decorating and graphic design perspective. I will certainly think about it more deliberately in my photography. : )

    Canon users, if your DSLR model has the Live View option (like the XSi) then you have the ability to set the LCD to see the live image including turning on the gridlines for the rule of thirds. The LCD Live View is much like what you would experience with a point and shoot camera. The fun thing with this feature is that when you adjust shutter speed and aperature, you see the live impact those changes will have on the image that will be captured.

  • Margot Lewis

    August 5, 2010 12:52 am

    Some Nikons do have a grid that you can turn on and off. The D90 has one, however the grid is divided into 12 sections, not 9. It messes with my head.

  • Greg

    August 5, 2010 12:41 am

    Rules are made to be broken, but in order to break them you first have to know them very well. Nice set of rules here. There are of course other rules of composition, which should be mentioned here - for example diagonal lines, contrast (big/small, short/long) etc.

  • Prateek Gupta

    August 4, 2010 11:56 pm

    Never noticed the POV.. I'm sure I was using it in my photographs... sub-consciously.. but... this is an excellent tip to keep in mind! :)

  • Kathy

    August 4, 2010 11:06 pm

    About the rule of odds... Not only in photography, but even if I have to buy many articles of one kind, I'll always buy 3 or 5, but never 2 or 4. If I have to create any sort of visual arrangement, either it be flowers, photos, paintings, furniture, I'll always, always choose an odd number of pieces...

    As for this article, I'm only really starting to get into SLR photography (having a little Nikon D60), but I find that I apply these rules instinctively... Only because it seems quite logic, from a visual point of view. But I greatly appreciate knowing how, and paying more attention to this in the future.

    I will most certainly be back!

  • Kevin

    August 4, 2010 10:53 pm

    Just my two cents' worth...

    I'm not entirely sure if this should be considered a rule of composition, but when I shoot something, I like for it to be able to tell a story. The best photographs are usually accompanied by a compelling story brought about by its context/circumstance. It is thus the photographers' goal to be able to make the viewer understand the story behind the photograph through its composition.

    Any thoughts on this?

  • Mahmoud H. Aljohani

    August 4, 2010 09:58 pm

    Hello,

    Thank you for this nice post. Rule of Odds has a great significance not only in photography but it has significance in religion, life ...etc, I recommend googling the words " numerology" and "Odd numbers" to have more info how numbers can affect our lives.

    Regards.

  • Jeni

    August 4, 2010 09:46 pm

    @Garry, I can only wish I had the Mark II....One day....by then I will have the composition better and shouldn't need the grid....lol Thank you so much for your response, though. It's nice that so many people are actually willing to help a girl out!!!

  • Garry

    August 4, 2010 07:45 pm

    @Jeni- If you are using a 5D Mark ll have a look on page 113 of your manual and it will show you how to set up a 9 square grid on your live view. There are two types of grids you can use but only on your LCD and not your view finder. If you don't have a manual find " Live View/Movie func. set" on your menu. Open that function and you will find an option to turn Grid Display on or off. Hope this helps.

  • Brajendra Singh

    August 4, 2010 07:42 pm

    Hello Elizabeth,
    I have been photographing for a some time, but have brought my passion in action recently, when I bought my 1st DSLR (Canon EOS 1000D). I have always been looking for such wonderful articles.

    I had read about the Rule of Thirds, but believe today is the fist time I actually understood it. Thanks for the knowledge sharing. I would be looking forward for such articles from you.

  • jeroen

    August 4, 2010 07:20 pm

    Ah, I can't edit my post, but there is also an english link for the diagonal-method:
    http://www.diagonalmethod.info/

  • jeroen

    August 4, 2010 07:16 pm

    I prefer the diagonal-"rule"

    But that one isn't mentioned here :)

    Take a look, half-way this (dutch) page:
    http://www.diagonaalmethode.nl/

  • Mei Teng

    August 4, 2010 06:51 pm

    The rule of odds is new to me.

  • Jeni

    August 4, 2010 06:22 pm

    @Richard, thanks...I knew it was too good to be true....lol...I know it's something I shouldn't need, but it would have been nice to have.

  • Richard Davis

    August 4, 2010 02:19 pm

    @jeni, @major bokeh, Niether the Canon EOS 5D nor the Canon EOS 5D Mark II have an active grid in either the viewfinder or LCD monitor that will display a 9-box grid via the menus (unlike, say, the Canon PowerShot G10). However, you can purchase an optional focus screen engraved with a grid. While this optional focus screen can help align verticals and horizontals, it's not a 9-box grid as shown in this article so it still requires some photographer interpretation if you want to use it as a rule-of-thirds assistant.

    As a career Canonista I've yet to see this in a Canon DSLR - but then I've not handled many of their models. I see it most frequently in point-and-shoot models so maybe it's a Nikon DSLR thing?

  • Trevor Rideout

    August 4, 2010 11:52 am

    Quoted from Speedy :"I have never heard of the “rule of odds”, or anything similar/related. You state that “studies have shown…”. Please show us these studies, i.e. links to sites, names of books or researchers, etc.. Interesting point though! Thanks for the article."

    I don't know where exactly to put my hands on any hard evidence, but I can tell you for a fact that this not only a photography rule, it is a design rule period. My mother who is a kitchen and bath designer is always pushing this. It is just something that is inherently know in the design/art world. Believe it or not, using odds actually makes something appear more balanced than if it were symmetrical. Just try taking a number of some the same inadomite object and group together 4 of them. Then group together 3 and see which one looks more appealing. Strange rule, but it works!

  • Scott

    August 4, 2010 11:40 am

    Thirds, space, and odd numbers are the ones I consider the most, but composition is something I need to keep working on.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4655263667/

  • Jim D

    August 4, 2010 11:28 am

    I shoot a lot of sports and not a lot of pre-planned, pre-staged / posed stuff. I do typically tend to shoot from a low angle so as to better catch faces / facial expressions. I'm learning to combine this with 3rds in mind but again - most of my targets won't just "stop!" and strike a pose for me while I snap away at 'em... *grin*

  • scott

    August 4, 2010 11:23 am

    After you master them, feel free to break them. I would not call these rules, I would call them guidelines, and they are all valid and need to be learned, and then broken :-)

  • Kat Landreth

    August 4, 2010 08:58 am

    Thanks for the composition tips. With all of the technical information about photography that's availability it's often hard to find composition tips beyond the rule of thirds. Thanks for sharing a few.

    One aspect of composition I always try and think about is the orientation of the camera. Will a shot work better as a vertical or horizontal (portrait or landscape)? The same shot could have a completely different meaning, look, and feel as a vertical than as a horizontal.

    Great post!

  • Jeni

    August 4, 2010 08:08 am

    @major bokeh----I am going to search that menu....can you give a little hint???

  • Nobody

    August 4, 2010 08:01 am

    My (figurative) eye seems to be a bit off when judging for thirds. Usually I end up with something at the right or left quarter, or much closer to the center (which is much more often). Or in vertical orientation, usually within the middle third.

    The horizontal placement, though, seems to more often work if the subject is large, as long as the subject is not centered, and perhaps the rule of space is applied.

    Another aspect of the rule of space: If the photograph is apparently some(one/thing) that just just STOPPED moving, leaving more space behind lends the same mystery and/or interest as photographing a moving subject with space in front of it.

    A quick example: I recently photographed a butterfly, and with my bad aim to thirds, landed its feet right ON the intersection of the lower and left thirds, the butterfly facing left. It had just extended its proboscis into the flower, leaving a short story: The butterfly had flown in from the right, and landed on the flower to drink. Had I intersected the thirds lines in the butterfly, it would have been squished to the edge of the frame, but that's not the point. If I had framed it on the right in stead of the left, it would look like it was trying to go somewhere rather than having stopped to sip nectar.

  • Major Bokeh

    August 4, 2010 08:00 am

    @jeni: Yes it does

    Good tips to keep in mind. The examples reinforce the theory too.

  • dl1337

    August 4, 2010 08:00 am

    Not sure why but my Nikon D700 does not have a rule of third option. I think contrary to what you said most DSLR do NOT have that option. It's mostly a P&S thing.

  • Speedy

    August 4, 2010 07:41 am

    I have never heard of the "rule of odds", or anything similar/related. You state that "studies have shown...". Please show us these studies, i.e. links to sites, names of books or researchers, etc.. Interesting point though! Thanks for the article.

  • Jeni

    August 4, 2010 07:32 am

    I wonder if the Canon 5D has the grid option you mentioned. I am usually pretty good, at least when editing to make sure my composition is appealing, but for now it would be nice to 'turn on' this grid to remind me at the time of shooting!!!

  • Bonnie Rannald

    August 4, 2010 07:00 am

    My favorite rule of composition it the Rule of Thrids, unless I'm photoing wildlife and then it's the Rule of Space.

  • Shams Naved

    August 4, 2010 07:00 am

    I think the Rule of Odds has something to do with symmetry. Though the background of the image is expected to be symmetric, as it makes up for a pleasant viewing, a symmetric main subject would not. In the flower picture you provided, it's easy to focus on one flower of choice but had there been even number of flowers, like 2,4 or 6 etc, one would not know where to look at.
    I think this is what Rule of Odds becomes quite a obvious choice.

  • Lon

    August 4, 2010 06:54 am

    "Studies have shown that people are actually more at ease and comfort when viewing imagery with an odd number of subjects. I’d be very interested to know the different opinions readers have for why that is."

    My guess is that it has to do with a subconscious awareness of primes (moreso than simply odd numbers) - indivisible numbers provide a naturally defined subject, when we introduce multiples we are overpopulating an image with unecessary subjects and lose focus on the narrative we are trying to convey.

    1,3,5,7,11,13,17,19,23,29,31,37,41,43 etc.

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