Taking a photograph is not just about pressing a button ! Composing an image is an important part of the act of photographing; this puts the photographer in an active position, where he can influence the reader with what he wanted to show. Composition is a very large subject to cover, thus I will first focus on how our eyes and brain are reading an image and what is the main rule of composition.

Reading an image can be explained as a movement of the eyes, driven by the brain. In the Western world, it is commonly admitted to read from top left to bottom right. The eye “enters the image” from the left side and go through it from top to bottom. The talent of the visual artist is then to keep the eye on the image as long as possible, and make it want to come back to it as soon as possible.

To do so, it is generally accepted that the most powerful rule to impact the analysis of an image follows the above sense of reading. This rule is called the rule of thirds (règle des tiers in French).

The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts and 4 key points, as follows:

The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally. Studies have shown that when viewing images that people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally rather than the center of the shot – using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing an image rather than working against it.

This rule is perfect for landscapes (1/3 for land, 2/3 for sky; or the contrary), but it is also very powerful for portraits. Placing your subject eyes on one the two horizontal lines and 1 eye on a key point will convey huge power to your portraiture. This is an example portrait of my daughter, where the eyes just dive into the image without wanting to exit 🙂