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Timeless Tips for Better Photo Composition

This instructional video from 1949 is an excellent refresher

Photography has changed substantially since 1949. It’s wild to consider just how much, especially with all the changes that have happened in the last decade alone. DSLR cameras are basically obsolete, tech advances inside smartphones have changed the way we think about photography, and the cost of film and film point and shoots has skyrocketed.

Although a lot has changed, the basics haven’t.  This 10-minute instructional video from 1949 offers a ton of compositional tips that are as relevant today as they were back then. The audio track in the background is a bit warped and the speaker’s voice is monotone, but it offers a very solid refresher on the concepts that are covered in basic photo classes. It also gives viewers a chance to check out some very cool old film photos that were taken by photo students at Iowa State College. Here’s some of our favorite old school tips regarding composition. 

Balance the Subject:

Although having a perfectly symmetrical photo can occasionally be formal and striking, it often leads to images that are lifeless and dull. It’s best to arrange the elements in a picture in an irregular way. Try to arrange visual elements so that no part of the frame feels overcrowded or empty. Objects of unequal sizes can create balance when they are arranged in interesting ways within the frame. Having a mixture of high and low contrast in an image can also create a balanced image.

Rule of Thirds: 


When in doubt, use the rule of thirds to help you compose a balanced image. Discovered thousands of years ago, this technique arranges objects in a 2:1 ratio. It can be done horizontally, vertically or both. Using the rule of thirds technique when composing can help the photographer tell a better story with their picture. Its best to have important elements in the frame hit near the cross points of the image as this is where the human eye will naturally focus on. 

Frame the Subject: 

Objects within a picture can be used to create frames and increase the feeling of depth. Elements like tree branches, tunnels, umbrellas or pipes can all be used to create interesting frames and lead the viewers eye to the main subject of the photograph. 


Break the Rules: 

Probably our favorite old-school photography tip. Once you’ve mastered the rules of composition, feel free to break them. 

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