Should There Even be Rules of Composition?


What is Your Eye Looking At?

Throughout the history of photography, there has been many articles and books written about the “rules of composition.” There’s the famous ‘rule of thirds’ that divides an image into three slices and dictates specific intersection points within the frame where subjects should be placed for maximum impact. While there is an element of truth in all of these rules—leading lines, triangles, balance— using any kind of dogmatic approach to your photography may not always be the best solution, especially when you have to work fast.

My philosophy of composition is based on how the human eye sees and constructs a photograph using these building blocks. Here’s the secret: When looking at a pictures, your eyes see parts of the image in the following order: sharpness, brightness, and warmth.


On the simplest level if the subject of your photograph is the sharpest, brightest, warmest object in the image, you’ve got a winner but if the subject is not sharp—tilt! The same thing happens when a sharp, bright object is placed near a similarly, sharp bright and warm object; you’re eyes are going to go to the warmest object, whether it’s sharp or not. So waddaya do? Change the framing of the image to eliminate the warm object or use depth-of-field to make it a lot less sharp. You get the picture…

For a whole new way of looking at composition and photography, take a look at William Mortensen’s 1937 book “The Command to Look.” Click this link to read my review of a new reprint of this classic book or better yet click on the title (link) and order an affordable (less than 15 bucks) new or used  copy from Amazon. This book could change your photography forever…or maybe not. It’s up to you.

Author: Joe Farace

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