Nitobe Gardens

To wrap up the series of articles on compositional guidelines, here is your one-stop-shop to improving your photos before you press the shutter release button. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions to the “rules” but these are the ones I found most helpful to me. Just click on the header of each tip for a more in-depth article of that particular compositional principle.

Rule of Thirds:

Imagine your frame is separated into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, as in the figure below.
Rule of Thirds - Cross hairs
The 2 horizontal lines can act as guides for horizons and the two 2 vertical lines can be used for other subjects. The points at which the vertical lines meet the horizontal lines may also act as your points of focus.

If you place your subject along the lines of the thirds or at the cross hairs, you will end up with a compositionally better image.


Be aware of the lines behind or even in front of your subject. For example, when taking photos at the beach, keep the horizon level unless you’re tilting the shot for obvious artistic reasons. Also, kee an eye out for vertical lines as well such as walls, lamp posts and buildings. Crooked or slanted lines may be distracting because it looks unnatural and unbalanced.

Avoiding Mergers:

Although, especially when shooting portraits, we tend to focus on the main subject, be mindful of other objects in the frame that may seem to “merge” with the subject. For example, plants, lamp posts and railings positioned just so it looks to be growing out of a person’s head. Also, avoid border mergers where fingers, feet and joints are cut off in the frame. Lastly, objects that draw more attention to themselves rather than to your intended point of interest should be taken out of the frame or minimized somehow.

Leading Lines:

Use lines in your surroundings to pull a viewer’s gaze along a path to your focal point. By nature, we tend to start from the bottom left of a photo and pan up and to the right so lines starting from that bottom left corner seems to be a good entry point. Curvy lines can slow down the eye’s path, so if you want your viewer to take a leisurely stroll through your photograph, try framing some curvy lines in your shot. Diagonal lines have more velocity and you should take care not to lead the eye straight out of the picture!

Leading Lines

Leading Lines

Get Closer:

Get close and zoom in when taking portraits and fill the frame with your subject. It’ll help hide a cluttered background and bring more attention to what you were trying to photograph in the first place.

For example, the before picture:
Zoom In - Pre

Now after cropping:
Zoom In - After

Or get even closer:
Zoom In - Closer Even

So there you are. A quick re-cap of compositional rules I went over in past articles. Please feel free to leave questions, comments and share your own photos using these rules!

Laura is a Vancouver wedding and portrait photographer. Visit