The classic rules of photography

These will significantly improve the essential quality of your shots and the general idea behind them.

The classic rules of photography

These will significantly improve the essential quality of your shots and the general idea behind them.

The following classic rules we will take a look at are significantly older than photography itself. They have established themselves over time as quality guidelines for producing good art. Since something has been considered beautiful for centuries, we should not overlook its significance. All these probably deserve your proper attention.

A few small reservations…

Now is time to establish the following reservation. The classic rules in photography are practically nothing more than just basic tips. On top of that, they do not even refer only to photography. People merely lean on them because it's been done in the art for thousands of years.

Despite this norm, in all types of art is best for a person to assume there is no real shackle to pattern his work. Even more so in today's mainstream world. But since these standards (the rules) can frequently be mistaken for such a shackle or frame, it is worthy to mention this is not their primary function.

In short: The idea of being able to understand the "rules" is that they will direct you to what has already been aesthetically established, to what will catch the eye not for only a short time now, but in many years to follow. But this doesn't limit you in any way.

So, once we are free from partial restraints, let's look at the substantial part, namely:

Classic rule #1: The rule of thirds

The rule of thirds serves as a guide in arranging the key elements in the photo frame. It is an imaginary line dividing the image horizontally and vertically into three identical parts. The idea is to employ them to align all the elements by trying to place the essential objects out of the center.

A classic example is a landscape whose horizon line is aligned with one of the two horizontals. In this way, it is placed outside the center of the frame and so the focus shifts either to the sky or to the ground.

As one would expect, this rule can be implemented not only to linear objects. The crossing points of the imaginary lines can also be such a landmark. This, in addition, gives the composition an aesthetic effect and the result does not look so unprofessional.

Classic rule #2: The golden ratio

The golden section has been discussed for centuries. And most likely there is a reason. It is accepted that by employing it, artists, designers, architects, and photographers achieve an established harmony in their finished product. This, in turn, is more than pleasing to the eye.

When dividing the frame according to the golden ratio, there are several options.

  • The first one is similar to the rule for thirds, but the intersections of the grid are considerably closer to the center of the photo.
  • The second option is to divide the frame into so-called a golden rectangle (subsequently divided into another, etc. on a similar principle), according to which the view of the photograph is subsequently arranged.

Another variation of the golden rectangles is a curve that connects each of them in a spiral. The idea is that this mascara causes the eyes to follow it gradually until they reach the prime object of the image.

Classic rule #3: The golden triangle

The rule for the golden triangle is another that helps to arrange the key parts of the photo well according to imaginary lines.

However, these imaginary lines are drawn diagonally in the frame. Then the height of the hypotenuse is constructed in the already formed triangles.

Most likely, the golden triangle is not the most practical direction and you will hardly be able to resort to it often. But it is a bonus technique when it comes to the composition of the picture.

  • A slight word of advice: Don't bother if the view you prefer doesn't allow you to apply any of the three rules, so far. In most cases, you will be unable to arrange the whole composition by yourself. Therefore utilize what you possess at hand, but do it in the possible best way.

Classic rule #4: The odd number of objects

At this place, things are quite straightforward. The odd number of objects is more aesthetically pleasing than the even one.

When the elements are not in pairs, the viewer's attention is focused more on the image. This is because we set a "task" on our brain - there is one unnecessary object, incompatible, which engages you with the fact that it has no partner. That is why the composition automatically becomes more interesting.

This rule is highly recommended! However, the last thing a photographer would enjoy is his photo be skipped nimbly after somebody takes a quick look at it.

Classic rule #5: Lines

Being careful about the lines in the camera view is something essential for an excellent photograph. Not only imaginary, but they may also be physically present. For example, for physical lines, you can perceive the horizon, several objects/people, the outlines of buildings and items, and everything else that forms a literal or abstract line.

Imaginary lines, as we can guess, are not something that exists. They pass through our eyes and brain. Through them, we produce a mental trajectory from one object to another. Of course, the line itself does not have to be complete, continuous, or even straight.

The lines direct the gaze of the observer. They create a kind of order and harmony. Besides, they deliver unusual energy to the photo, different intensities. Compare, for example, frames with predominantly horizontal lines and those with diagonal or combined lines. You can't help but experience the difference.

Classic rule #6: Balance

To achieve any harmony in the image, the diverse elements in the photo must be balanced with each other. Their color, size, and shape contribute to the overall look.

Incompatible objects can bring unnecessary weight to the part of the photo (for example, a small-large object is different from a very small one-large object, or too many bright colors along with a few pale ones compared to a selected range). That's why you need some "weighing" of the elements so that they visually fit.


Therefore, these are the classic rules to provide a brilliant start for a more inexperienced photographer. When you have them in mind, you will always be able to navigate the combination of elements, or simply put - you will have the idea of the exact composition.

  • One last tip: Just because you can't go mistaken with the traditional doesn't mean you can't experiment. You can afford to exclude the classics sometimes. Otherwise, you risk your work becoming too monotonous and boring.

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