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5 easy composition rules to improve your photography: #5 break the rules

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

― Pablo Picasso

Rule number 5… well it’s not really a rule at all.

Over the previous four weeks, we’ve looked at the rule of thirds, framing, filling the frame and embracing negative space, and while there are so many more ‘rules’ of photography that I could go on to talk about, I’m going to give you the most important rule of all…

don’t be afraid to break the rules

sometimes placing your subject dead in the middle of the frame works well…

and there will be moments when you don’t have time to frame your subjects – it’s more about capturing the moment and you need to think quick

there will be times when your foreground and background are an important part of the story of the image

and times when no matter where you move, there will be no negative space in your image, but it will still work

So there you have it – my top 5 rules to help you improve your photography!

now, it all comes down to practice

So pick up your camera whenever you can.  Practice on whatever willing, unwilling, stationary or moving subject you can find, and you will soon see an improvement in your photography.

And most important of all, have fun!

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

Has this series of 5 easy composition rules to improve your photography helped to make you more confident in your own photography?  And what was your favourite rule to play with?

If you’ve enjoyed this series, please share it with a friend!

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5 easy composition rules to improve your photography: #4 embrace negative space

the use of negative space is a simple tool to highlight the simplicity or beauty of an object in a photo

Negative space, sometimes referred to as white space, is a concept that’s been used in art, design, architecture, and sculpture for hundreds of years.

what is negative space?

Put simply, negative space is the area which surrounds the main subject in your photo (the main subject is known as the “positive space”)

By allowing plenty of negative space (areas of your photo with nothing in it) you emphasize the main subject of the photo and automatically draw your viewers eyes to it.  By providing this “breathing room” and giving your eyes somewhere to rest, you prevent your image from appearing too cluttered with “stuff”.  When used properly, negative space provides a natural balance against the positive space in a scene and adds up to a more engaging composition.

When used properly, negative space provides a natural balance against the positive space in a scene and adds up to a more engaging composition.

but this is the opposite of fill your frame!

It sure is!!  To determine if negative space will work for your image, adjust your composition until the positive and negative spaces in the shot feel well balanced against one another. Be generous with the amount of empty space you leave, and don’t feel you have to cram something interesting into every square centimetre of the frame.

Now, not every image is meant to work with the compositional techniques of filling your frame or embracing negative space.  And don’t be fooled into thinking that your negative space has to be white – just try to balance a simple and uncluttered negative space with your positive.

here I’ve used a black negative space to emphasize the pale pinks and greens of the buds

a simple image with negative space surrounding the subject
image by Magdalena Roeseler

notice here how your eyes are drawn to the man’s face and how the negative and positive space are nicely balanced?
image by Jason

Looking for the other installments in this series? You’ll find #1 the rule of thirds here and #2 framing here. Post #3 fill the frame can be found here.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

What do you think of negative space? Do you use it often? Share some examples in the comments if you like.

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5 easy composition rules to improve your photography: #3 fill the frame

what is the ‘frame’ and why should you fill it

In a nutshell, the ‘frame’ refers to the edges of your photograph. To ‘fill the frame’ means to get in close, to make your subject a significant portion of the final image.

Filling the frame adds instant impact to your image. You’ve excluded the unnecessary distracting background elements and have given your subject a ratio of the frame that is directly related to his or her importance.  Filling the frame encourages you, as a photographer, to really spend time thinking about your subject and how best to feature that subject in your photograph.

Filling the frame also encourages you as a photographer, to really spend time thinking about your subject and how best to feature that subject in your photograph.

why does filling the frame work

Two reasons that filling the frame work so well are:


By filling the frame with your subject you leave no doubt about what the focal point of your image is.  Any details that might steal the spotlight are eliminated.  This is one of the reasons macro and close-up photography is so interesting—we see details we are not usually aware.  Think about photos of the elderly, the lines and wrinkles on their faces, and the stories that they tell.  Alternatively, the fresh young skin and faces of young ones…  These types of details are important.

2. background

Backgrounds are often cluttered with information that is not relevant to the subject and only diverts attention.  As with details above, being visually close to a subject or situation helps the viewer to feel physically close and emotionally connected, and of course, it allows us to see expressions and details that we’d otherwise miss.

focusing on my Boy’s hands opening the knife is a reminder for me of just how important working wood is to him

by zooming in close – and yes, chopping off the top of her head! – your eyes are drawn to the young girl’s eyes and their innocence

by focusing on the leaves, the colour and sense of movement here evoke memories of an autumn afternoon

even though you can’t see the grooms face, you get a sense of his personality in the way that he holds his stick

by filling the frame with the Boy and the Dog, it shows their bond and a companionship that needs no words

As with rules #1 and #2, the fill the frame rule is just a guideline.  It won’t work for all images, but don’t be afraid to move in close, and then move in closer again to see if your subject has the makings of a ‘fill the frame’ image.

Looking for the first installment in this series? You’ll find #1 the rule of thirds here.

And you’ll find #2 framing here.

In the comments, I’d love to see:

Your favourite fill the frame image.  What photo have you taken that fills the frame and really tells a story for you?

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5 easy composition rules to improve your photography: #1 rule of thirds


When you were a kid you hated them.  And I’ll bet there are times as an adult that you wish they didn’t exist too!

The wonderful thing about rules in photography is that you can break them.  As many times as you like.  However you like.  Because they’re not really rules…. more like guidelines.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing with you my 5 favourite, and incredibly easy to remember, rules guidelines to help you improve your photography.

the rule of thirds

The most basic of all photography rules.

When you’re just starting out, it’s going to be tempting to put whatever you are photographing right in the centre of the frame.  Boring!

The rule of thirds states that for an image to be visually interesting, you need to divide your frame into thirds – both horizontally and vertically – with the main focus of your image on one of these imaginary lines or at one of the points where they intersect.

composition rule example - landscape rule of thirds

rule of thirds – a landscape example – see how the tree in on the left-hand vertical line?

why does it work?

The human eye tends to be more interested in images that are divided into thirds, especially when the subject falls at or along one of those divisions.

Check your camera – whether it’s your phone camera, a point-and-shoot or a DSLR – as many cameras will actually give you a visual grid in your viewfinder to help you practice this rule. If your camera doesn’t have it (or you can’t find it!) use your eye to roughly divide your image with four lines into nine equal-sized parts (like the grid above right), then place your subject at the intersection of those lines.

With practice, the rule of thirds will become second nature, and you’ll just know when your composition looks right.

Below are a couple more examples, with grid lines, to show you how easy it can be to incorporate the rule of thirds into your photography knowledge bank.

here my Boy and his bike sit on the left-hand vertical grid line

composition rule of thirds with animal example

here the dog’s nose sits on the right-hand vertical line and her left eye sits near the top-left-hand intersect (notice I say ‘near’ – I’m bending the rules a little!)

rule of thirds example with flower

here the flower sits on the right-hand vertical line, plus the petals (and the burst of colour) are near (another rule bend!!) the top-right-hand intersect

taking it a step further

While placing your subject on any of the lines and intersects of the gridline will add emphasis to your subject, under certain situations, some are stronger than others.

For example, when your object or subject is alone in an image, the strongest position is the left-hand line (see my Boy on his bike above).

 Another aspect to rule of thirds that is handy to remember is that your subject should be placed on the opposite line of the direction that they’re looking. So, if your portrait subject is looking left, their body should be placed on the right of the frame. This gives the photo more room in the direction they’re looking and avoids the appearance that they are gazing off into space.

it really is as simple as that!

So my challenge to you.  This week pick up your camera and incorporate the rule of thirds into your work.  Turn on your grid lines if you have them and if you don’t jump into practising without them.

In the comments, I’d love:

If you want to share any examples of your practice, please do so.  And let me know how you went with adding the rule of thirds to your knowledge bank!

And stay tuned for #2 framing – coming up soon!

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I Let My Kids Use Shed Words

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

I had a work colleague stop me last week and say “I overheard your Daughter be rude in front of you… I’m surprised she spoke like that.”  My response? “My kids are allowed to use shed-words in appropriate situations.” 

She looked a little astonished, to say the least.

When something pisses my kids off enough though, they’re allowed to vent – shed words and all.

okay, i admit to being a little unorthodox in my parenting

I probably need to explain the term ‘shed words’ here.  It’s a very Australian phrase which translates to ‘swear words’. The words you use in the shed, when you hit your thumb with a hammer.  You get the idea?!

Now there are provisos to the use of shed words.  The kids now that:

  • they’re not allowed to use shed-words in company
  • they’re not allowed to use shed-words which are directed toward either of their parents or a person of authority
  • and they’re not allowed to use shed-words in general conversation

(Shed words used by our family are fuck, fucking, shithead, asshole and dickhead.  By no stretch of the imagination is the c-word ever allowed. Ever. And I get the impression, after a little internet searching of swear words, that our shed-words are pretty tame by comparison to what is out there.)

When the kids were younger, Husband and I had an unspoken agreement that you didn’t swear in front of them.  As they’ve gotten older though, I in particular, have become a self-confessed potty-mouth (clarification coming: only 2 short years ago, I was offended by the excessive use of swearing.  I still am.  I work with kids who think nothing of telling you to go fuck yourself without a blink of an eye.  That’s not okay. At all.)  Now, if I’ve had a bad day (of which there’s been a few of late) I come home and I vent to my ever patient Husband – shed words and all.  He smiles, he nods, I vent and I feel a little better.

why should it not be the same for my kids?

They have bad days too, don’t they?  Such-and-such was a right-royal-pain in class and disrupted their learning to the point of boiling-over frustration, but they’re not allowed to say so…?  I don’t think so.  If you think so-and-so was a disrespectful pain-in-the-ass, you can let me know.  Get it out, vent, clear that negative energy and get on with the rest of your day.

but it doesn’t mean that they get to cuss whenever they want

For my kids it works a treat.  Mum lets rip whenever she feels it is deserved (all but rule 1 applies to me… after all I’m a grown-up and am responsible for my own actions), so they can do the same.  They honestly don’t do it all that often, but when they do, they know that it is allowed and they know their boundaries.  They know there will be consequences (and oh boy, there’s a whole other post able to be written here) if they break the rules outlined above.

so yes, my kids use shed words and i permit it
does that make me a bad parent?

I don’t think so.  If anything I think it makes me a better parent.  I’m teaching them boundaries, respect and appropriate social behaviours.  Which in turn is going to make them better adults.

Your thoughts on letting kids swear?

Do you let your kids swear or are such words completely taboo?  I’ll leave you with this question:

if we teach our kids when these types of words are able to be used, are we not educating a more polite next generation?
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