12 Composition Rules to Take Your Photos to the Next Level

Why You Should Take Your Photos to the Next Level

First of all, I must say I’m a hobbyist, not a professional. I love photography and learning how to improve our pictures. Generally, my husband takes tons of pictures on our trips. When we’re home I pick out good ones and do any needed editing.

I could say right off that all Cru staff should have some skills with photography. Of course, all missionaries use photos to tell their stories in their prayer letters. If you’re active on social media and/or a blogger, you also know that good visuals are key for social ministry. Our culture is very visual and good images carry your message a lot further.

For today’s post, I’m suggesting you learn one new photo composition rule per month. In a year, you’ll love the engaging look of your photos and will be eager to continue learning how to improve your photography.

Your Monthly Composition Rules

I chose the following order purposely, but you may learn these in any order you wish. I suggest you focus on one for a month to create a habit before moving to another one.

  1. Background
  2. Line
  3. Color
  4. Framing
  5. Orientation
  6. The Rule of Thirds
  7. Rule of Odds
  8. Leaving Space
  9. Texture
  10. Pattern
  11. Golden Ratio
  12. Golden Triangles

These are all described in detail at Digital Photo Secrets. Read:

Some Samples from What I’ve Learned

I thought it might be helpful for you to see how I handled different photo needs. If you need a closer look at any of these, right-click on a photo to open it in another tab in your browser.

Lousy Color

You have them, too, probably. Old, damaged photos or even newer pictures where you love everything about them, but the color is off in some way… a greenish cast to the skin or the colors are washed out in that favorite beach scene.

I have a favorite photo of my dad, but on the left you see my original has some kind of blue stain across his forehead and chin. My simple solution was to switch to black and white. I’m still aware of the damaged area in that version, too, but most people won’t notice it.


Rule of Thirds and Shape

The next set of photos show several sunset photos in Interlaken, Switzerland. Every photo had the horizon line right through the center of the photo and a few horizons were crooked. I thought the photos became more interesting, too, as the sky began to turn orange.

The lower right photo is my final edit in the set. I chose the upper right photo and straightened the horizon slightly. I then cropped the whole photo to the golden ratio (1:1.618), trying to put the main elements on the thirds, which includes the bird silhouette.

Focus on the Main Thing

Seeing the cherry blossoms in D.C. has been on my bucket list all my life. Last spring, I was able to spend an afternoon walking around the Tidal Basin with thousands of others, taking in the beauty of the trees. For some of my photos from that day, I wanted to focus on the cherry blossoms, which is hard to do with such a crowd.

The smaller photo is the original. I cropped out the shadowy people, focusing on just the arching branches and pale-pink blooms. (To make the background image of the Jefferson memorial, I created a blurred black-and-white of my original photo.)

Golden Triangles

My last example is of Golden Triangles. Both the hibiscus and the anemone photos on the left are cropped with the idea of the Golden Triangle.

I thought you’d be interested in the original of the anemone on the right. Not only did I crop out some of the black background, but I removed the Exit sign in the back and the one glass reflection on the stem.

Let me know if you’re going to try one of these new composition rules this month. Have fun!

Would you like more photo tips?


  • We use a basic point-and-shoot camera, a Canon Powershot.
  • My main photo editor software Paint.net, has amazing features. It’s free; they suggest you donate to support this great product.
  • I also use Picasa for editing, but this free software is no longer supported, unfortunately.
  • I also recommend this article on golden ratios, triangles, and spirals.
  • All photos in this post are copyrighted to Mike and Sus Schmitt.

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