Photography: Focus on Composition


Composing photography involves being deliberate about how you design your photographs. You need to consider how you will focus the viewer’s attention clearly on your subject and how you will compose your image to create greater interest. Ansel Adams explains it this way, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” So, with this in mind, we will discuss three helpful guidelines, which can help us to do just that; “make” a photograph by focusing attention clearly on our subject. Using these guidelines can help anyone to make the most of their photography. In this post, I will be referring to information from a web page called, 10 Top Photography Composition Rules. It can be found at this link: Another useful resource to consider is a video clip called 9 Photo Composition Tips, by COOPH. Here is the link.

Rule of Thirds

The first photograph we will examine was created by Dale Johnston. He is a professional photographer, who currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa. This beach scene is picture perfect, in part because it was composed using the rule of thirds. The colors are analogous and work beautifully together. Also, the photographer waited for the opportune moment for the sunlight to cast the perfect shadow directly under the umbrella. Some of Johnston’s work, including this image, can be found on

The rule of thirds is based on an imaginary grid made up of two vertical and two horizontal lines that divide the image into 9 equal sections. (See image above) It states that the most important elements of your photograph should be “placed along these lines, or at the points where they intersect.” As you can see, the point where the beach meets the ocean is lined up along the lower horizontal line. In addition, the horizon is lined up along the top horizontal line. He also cleverly focused the main subject of his image, the umbrella and beach chairs, at the top right intersection of the grid lines and along the right vertical line. This type of placement keeps things interesting and it helps to create balance. The lines created by the horizon and the beach lead your eye directly to the focal point.


Kingston Ferry–Rule of Thirds

This is a photograph I took of the Kingston Ferry from off the beach in Edmonds, Washington. I managed to align the horizon along the top horizontal line and I made sure the Ferry was placed on the top right intersection point. Can you see how the ferry is very much the focus of attention? Its location in the photograph creates interest and balance. If I had centered it rather than using the rule of thirds, the over-all composition would have been far less appealing. Also, notice how the peer and the breakwater direct your attention toward the ferry. This feature leads us into to our next topic.

Leading Lines

This lovely image is a prime example of leading lines. It was taken by Jim Zuckerman while he was visiting Holland. The colors of the tulips are again analogous, which creates a very comfortable pallet. The perfectly straight rows leading to the classic and stately windmill are the focus of this sections topic.

Zuckerman is a well known photographer who enjoys teaching others his craft. He has written 22 books on photography and his photographs and writings have been featured in hundreds of publications. You can find examples of his work, including this image at The Photography and Film Making Education Resource.

The human eye is naturally drawn along lines, and as a result toward any subject at the end of those lines. Leading lines create a clear direction for your eye to follow. This fact can be used by photographers to draw attention and focus toward their subject. Leading lines can take many forms including straight, as in this photo, curvy, diagonal, round, or even zigzag. Jim Zuckerman aligned his shot precisely to be able to take full advantage of the straight lines created by the rows of tulips, which lead the eye effortlessly toward the beautiful windmill across the field. These lines enhance the focus and create a sense of movement in the direction of the windmill. Using leading lines provides a wonderfully effective way to focus the viewers attention on your subject.


Main Street in Edmonds Washington–Leading Lines

In this photograph of Main Street in downtown Edmonds, the repeated curving design within the pavement leads your eye toward the beautiful water fountain in the center of this turn-about intersection. These lines quickly direct your attention along the curving path toward the the subject. The curve of these lines makes the image feel dynamic, which endows this photo a sort of fluid motion. The curving lines also repeat the feel of the curve of the water arching down as it falls from the fountain. The water fountain is certainly a lovely attraction all on its own, but by aligning the shot to take advantage of the leading lines, I was able to further enhance its importance in the photograph.

Depth of Field

I found this image on a blog called in an article called, Depth of Field in Portraits and Event Photography. I could not locate the name of the photographer for this image, but it can be found by using this link.

This image of these colorful macaws is composed in a very pleasing way. The colors are once again analogous and provide a fresh relaxing feel. The focus used adds interest and helps you to see the subject more clearly. The color and markings of the birds create a beautiful pattern, which is very eye-catching. The thing I enjoyed the most about this photograph is the fact that this pattern is slightly broken by the direction the birds are facing. Notice how the two birds on the left are facing in the same direction, while the bird in front is facing forward. Because this highlights their very distinctive features, I felt it created the most interesting aspect of this image.

This photograph of colorful macaws provides a perfect example of depth of field. Depth of field refers to the range of focus in a photograph. This means the subject is clearly within the range of focus while the rest of the photo is not. This creates a visual contrast between the two areas, which reduces the impact of other competing elements. In depth of field composition, the focus can be in the foreground, the middle ground, or the background. In this case, the focus is in the foreground. This group of three blue and yellow macaws are in crystal clear focus, which indicates they are the main focus here. The focus of the fourth macaw along with the greenery in the background is quite diminished in comparison to the subject grouping. The photographer used depth of field to create a clear visual contrast between the subject and the background. This allows your eye to easily center in on the most important part of the photograph, which is of course the lovely and colorful macaws.


Hellebore, Lenton Rose–Depth of Field

Hellobore, Lenton Rose–Depth of Field

This is a photograph I took in my backyard of a hellebore plant, which is commonly known as Lenton Rose. I locked in the camera’s focus on one of its exquisitely formed pink blooms. The background of this image is much less focused than the flower. The contrast in focus created by the depth of field quickly attracts your attention, directing it toward the main subject of the photograph. There is no confusion about the point of focus because by using depth of field, you can reduce the effect of other competing elements.


With the help of these images and draw overs, we are now able to better understand the purpose and benefit of using these three composition guidelines; the rule of thirds, leading lines, and depth of field. We could see just how each of these guidelines serves to focus our attention directly on the subject and how each of them can add interest and impact to any image. We can now better understand the idea that Ansel Adams expressed in his quote. So, to make the most of your photography, you need to be very purposeful and deliberate in your approach. Then you will not just take pictures, you will make them.


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