Composing your Images

In today's lesson we're looking at two areas of composing a beautiful image.

Backgrounds and the Rule of Thirds.

I'd like you to spend some time watching and reading, so that when you next have time to practise, you can try to implement some of these ideas. There's also an exercise a bit like our Pinterest Safari that you can do when there's no natural light – in an evening, or on your lunch break perhaps?


What you place your subject on or in front of is an important part of creating an image. It helps with developing your style, telling a story, and it creates the canvas for your image.

Backgrounds add depth to your image. Backgrounds with texture work really well and the choice of your background really sets the scene for your image.

There are lots of ways you can create backgrounds for vignettes and flat lays. For example you can use large sheets of card from an art shop for white, black, grey or other colours that you might like. Wrapping paper works really well as a backdrop either for a flat lay or to tap up on the wall like wallpaper. And it's so easy to find and affordable. It is also a great way to bring in different seasons into your images. Marble, old wood and tarnished baking trays are other favourite backgrounds of mine.

I'm now lucky enough to have an old wooden table in my studio but I also have pieces of old wood that I have rescued from skips that I use. The more battered and worn the better. New wood just doesn't have the same feeling to it. Fabric is wonderful too and I especially love linens as the natural creases really add to the depth and texture of the background.

Backgrounds for portraits

If you are taking portraits outside (or indeed inside) it's also really important to think about the background. I am always looking for old doors, lovely fences full of ivy, beautiful rows of trees, wild flower meadows etc. Endless possibilities once you start thinking about it but it is so important to be aware of the background as much as the foreground in all the images that you take. This is really important to think about if you are taking model shots of the things you've made as the background will really help you make beautiful images.

The rule of thirds

On your smartphone you can turn on a grid for when you are taking a photo. This grid helps you to apply a simple photograpy technique called "the rule of thirds".

On an iPhone you do this in the settings. Android phones usually have a grid setting on the camera itself. Please ask me in the group if you get stuck.

The grid enables you to think of your image in thirds. By placing your subject so that the main point of interest is directly on one of those grid lines, or even better where the horizontal and vertical grid lines meet, you can easily create a balanced image that makes our eyes happy! It also helps you to create images that are a bit more interesting. By placing your subject to one side, for example.

It's not a hard and fast rule - not all images have to follow the rule, but it's a great way to experiment with composition. Here's a diagram to show you what I mean. If you imagine you wanted to take a picture of any of these shapes (without any other shapes in the picture) you could start by positioning them at one of those four points.

Once you've tried that, try some photographs where you put the subject only within one of the thirds, or even only including some of the subject in the frame. Have some fun with it! You can always delete the ones that you don't like, and you don't have to share every one of your images.

An example of the rule of thirds

In this image you can see that I've positioned the very centre of the camera's lens where the horizontal and vertical grid lines meet.

Not everything in the image has to be at that point - none of the flowers or petals are! If you think to yourself while you are taking the image "what is the main subject of this image?" and then position it so it's at one of those four points it should look good.

Keep it simple

Turn your grids on, find a simple subject and take some different images of it. Really thinking about where you position it in the grid. If you want to share some in our Facebook Group that would be lovely! Have a think about which ones you like best. Do some make you feel differently? Can you create a feeling simply from where you place your subject in the frame?

Also take a look at some images on Pinterest or in a book or magazine and really look at the composition. Where is the subject? Can you see the image in terms of thirds? By looking at other images in this way it will really help you when you come to compose your own images.

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