A Beginner’s Guide to Photo Composition

Photography editor Erin Chung writes about three important photo composition tips.

October 9, 2022

Whether you’re an experienced photographer or a novice, these three composition suggestions can help your photos stand out and look more interesting.


1. The Rule of Thirds 

The rule of thirds is a guideline in photography composition in which the subject is placed in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two thirds more open. Although it may be tempting to place every subject in the middle of a photo, this guideline helps direct the audience’s eyes towards the focal point, creating a more compelling viewing experience. Notice how in the photo below, I placed my subject– the fox– in the top left section to utilize the rule of thirds.

Yellowstone, Wyoming  ||  Erin Chung ’23


2. Frame Within A Frame

The frame within a frame technique can be an exception to the rule of thirds. This composition guideline is exactly what it sounds like: you create a border over your subject and create a frame within your photo. This helps create depth, brings attention to the focal point, and prevents your photo from feeling “flat”. Ultimately, this technique simply makes any photo more interesting to look at, so try to incorporate fun shapes and frames when possible! In the photo below, the Quetzal bird is my main subject, and the surrounding branches create a frame around it.

Herradura, Costa Rica  ||  Erin Chung ’23


3. Negative Space

Any areas of an image that are left empty are referred to as negative space. There is a misconception that empty spaces in any art piece are boring and useless, but this is untrue! Sometimes, including negative space can accentuate your main subject, and it can even evoke certain emotions such as tranquility or loneliness. If you’re ever struggling to decide whether using this composition guideline will add or take away from the photo, try asking yourself what you want the audience to think and feel when viewing your work. By blurring the background in the photo below, I created a negative space which draws the audience’s attention towards the focal point– the brown pelican.

Monterey, California  ||  Erin Chung ’23

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