These days, we arguably take more photos than ever before because, as technology has advanced, we have powerful cameras right in our pockets. But out of all of the photos you’ve taken, how many are worth keeping—or better yet, printing?

Whether you want to become a professional photographer or just want to improve your photo-taking for your own enjoyment and documentation, how you compose a photo is key. Composition refers to the placement of relative elements within a work of art—so, photo composition is how your subject is placed within the image. Ideally, you want to draw the viewer’s eye in and then ensure they’re focusing on the point you intended.

There are more than a few ways to play with a photo’s composition. But before you get out there and start shooting, take advice from the experts.

Here, Ami Vitale, a National Geographic photographer, shares three things to consider when composing a great image.

1. Patterns and Repetition

A repeating pattern shows scale.
A repeating pattern shows scale.

When you take a photo, you want it to be reminiscent of what you actually saw with the naked eye. But, when shooting outdoors, it can prove challenging to show a subject’s true size. Patterns and repetition in photos create a sense of scale so the viewer better understands how something really looked in relation to everything around it. 

2. Diagonal Lines

Lines lead the eye to a certain part of the image.
Lines lead the eye to a certain part of the image.

When used in a photograph, lines create movement and bring the viewer into the image. They also help point the eye in a certain direction. So, if you want to draw the viewer’s eye to a specific part of the photo, compose it with naturally occurring lines leading to it. Popular examples include railways, paths, and bridges. 

3. Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds in action: A subject aligned left.
The rule of thirds in action: A subject aligned left.

The rule of thirds refers to superimposing a grid with two vertical and two horizontal lines onto an image, essentially breaking each it into thirds each way (hence the name). This is even a setting on your phone’s camera that does this for you. 

The rule is to place your subject near any of the lines or where they intersect, which creates balance in the photograph. So, you could align your subject along the left-hand side near one or both of the intersecting lines there. 

Now that you know what to consider when composing your next photograph, it’s time to start practicing!

Want to Further Improve Your Photography?

Documentary Photography: Capturing Places and People .

Written by:

Laura Brothers