Photography tips for beginners. Lesson 2 – Some simple photography rules to follow (or break).

Disclaimer:  This is meant to be a fun and simple series of blog posts aimed at photography beginners, parents or anyone interested in taking better portrait photos.  I do not claim to be an expert and if you see any mistakes please feel free to set me on the right path (politely).  Any-one who uses manual mode on their SLR need not read on as you already know everything I am going to write in these posts.

Lesson 2 – Some simple photography rules to follow (or break).

Hello.  Well it seems you have come back for another lesson and I hope that you had a go at the first one.  If you haven’t read it yet, click here to have a read and see how you can blur your backgrounds to make your subject stand out.

In lesson 2 we will take a quick look at some simple “rules” of photography, keeping in mind that after you know how to use the rules there may also be times that they can be broken.  Also I believe that, to an extent, photography is an art and subject to personal preference. If you love a picture then it doesn’t matter who says it is right or wrong.

There are many “rules” of photography but I will just give you a few that I think make a lot of difference to improve the look of your photos and they are really easy.  Here we go…

1. The rule of thirds: Most of you have probably heard about this at one point or another.  Basically the idea is that you divide up your frame into thirds horizontally and vertically so that you have 9 sections.  Then you place your subject in the intersections or along the lines.  An easy example to show you is of a landscape shot.  Before I knew this rule I would always place the horizon dead centre of my landscape shots and they were always a bit boring.  You kinda don’t know if you are supposed to be looking at the sky or the landscape.  Move your horizon so that you have 2 thirds sky and 1 third land or vice versa (depending on what you are trying to show off). See below.

 50/50 split – boring ^^

1/3 land, 2/3 sky (ok well i went a bit overboard but you get the picture.). ^^

This can also be applied to portraits.  See my very dodgy statue portrait example below.

Subject smack bang in the middle – a bit boring. ^^

Place to one side along one of the “third” lines and their heads are in an intersecting “third”. ^^

End result; more interesting.  However still a dodgy boring photo of a statue. 🙂 ^^

2. Keep horizons or important lines straight; or if you are going to tilt the image make sure it is actually on purpose.  A small tilt can make the photo hard on the eye and feel lopsided.  Adjusting the tilt to make it straight will give you a much cleaner look. See below

Picture wasn’t taken straight. ^^

A straight horizon somehow makes it all look a lot better. ^^

Before and after straighten.  I think it just cleans up the image a bit and makes it look more professional.  Really easy to do.

3. Give your subject space to look/move into.  This one ties in with the rule of thirds.  If you place your subject to one side of the frame and they are looking/facing the right, you would probably want to place them on the left of the frame and vice versa.  See below.

negative space behind subject

The “negative space” is behind him and he is looking out of the frame.  The space behind him isn’t really doing much.

negative space in front

The subject is looking into the frame with the space in front of him.  There is room in front of him in the image for him to look or move into.  ^^

belinda wh

Negative space in front of the subject.  Wouldn’t have worked if she was facing the other way. ^^

4.  This one is more about lighting than a rule.  Avoid dappled lighting on faces, it’s distracting and doesn’t usually look good unless you are trying to achieve a specific effect.

dappled light portrait bad lighting harsh

Dappled light and bad, overhead, harsh light from midday sun. ^^

backlit portrait blown out highlights

Shooting towards the sun with your subject facing away from the sun.  This is better but see the top of his head is “blown out” (the big white spots).  You have probably always been told to face your subjects towards the sun but we can tackle that in another post.  ^^


Find full open shade (in this case, the shade of a shed) during the day so that you don’t have to deal with dappled light or blown out spots in the hair. ^^

Thanks for reading.  Please go out tomorrow and take some test shots and send them to me.  I would love to see.

Check out lesson 1 here and I would love for you to head over to my Facebook page and leave a message about what you thought of this post.