8 of the Best Composition Techniques for Outdoor Photography!

The composition of various elements in your picture can take it from being a mere snapshot used for memory to a work of art. There are various composition techniques, each one has its place and each one highlights different aspects of the image. Here is a list of the most common, these are by no means a list of rules, but more guidelines to take your photography to a new level. It is not uncommon for more than one technique to be used in a photo, this can add an extra level of interest to the image.

Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds was originally devised as a composition technique by the great painters. The main goal of the technique is to make sure your subject is not in the center of the image.

The idea is to divide your image into three equal horizontal strips and three equal vertical strips. The point where the lines intersect is then known as your power points. These points are where you want to place your most important elements. For example, if you are taking a landscape, you want to place your horizon along one of the horizontal lines. If you have a building or a person standing in your photo, consider placing it/them along one of the vertical lines.

If you are taking a portrait photo, the eyes are important and you should, at least, consider placing them near one of the intersection points.

Rule of Thirds overlay

Leading Lines

Lines are everywhere, from roads to trees to horizons and therefore knowing how to use them can be very beneficial in composing your images. Lines guide the eye through a scene and help the brain process the image. The idea of leading lines is to either have the lines lead the eye towards the subject or to have the lines lead the eye deeper into the picture. This gives the photo depth and adds interest.

Calgary Peace Bridge Leading Lines


Symmetry is always pleasing to the eye as it can bring balance to an image. This can either work really well to highlight your subject or your subject can be completely lost. It would take some playing around to see what works best for your style. A common way of using symmetry is in reflections. Lakes and windows are very common ways to capture reflections like in the example below.

Reflection photography technique


Framing your image can help draw the eye to the subject. There are also a few ways to frame your subject. You could use items in the environment like trees or buildings, or if there is nothing to use, you can add a slight vignette to the image in post-processing. The eyes tend to be drawn to the brightest portion of an image so a vignette draws the eye into the center of the image. Even a slight vignette that is not consciously noticeable will still draw the eye to the center of the image.

The first example is of an image that has been framed between the two large trees on the edges.

Framing Photography Technique

The second example is of an image without a vignette and then with a vignette added. Notice how the eye is draw to the centre of the image.

A puddle in the Mountains


Simplifying an image is the idea of removing distracting elements so that the brain has an easier time of figuring out what the subject is. The concept can be implemented in numerous ways, including the use of patterns, textures or colour. For example, in the image below, the background is full of mist which allows the eyes to focus on the tidal pool which is the subject.

Simplicity photography technique

Fill the Frame

When you Fill the Frame, you are filling it with your subject so there is no doubt what the image is of. Usually there is very little to no negative space in the image. The technique is used extensively in journalistic images as well as in portraiture. When you fill the frame, it is still common to use another composition technique to organize the elements within. When photographing the face for example, it is common practice to use the Rule of Thirds technique and place the eyes along the intersection points (Read about the Rule of Thirds Above).

Fill the frame photography technique


Taking a picture with diagonals, either the subject is diagonal or the lines are diagonal, it can add a sense of movement or interest to the image. In the example below, the turtle is facing into the top right corner and that is more aesthetically pleasing than if the animal were just facing the edge of the image.

Diagonals Photography technique


When photographing subjects that either have a head or an actual front and back, (like a car for example) it is generally more aesthetically pleasing to have more space in front of the item than behind. The image can feel constricting if there is no headroom.

Headroom Photography Technique

Let us know what you guys think of the list! If you have any suggestions about other techniques, let us know and we will add them! The best way to find out which technique works best in which situation is by practising. This is the only way to know when is the best time to not follow any of these techniques.