Basic iPhoneography Composition Tips: Rule of Thirds, Lines, Shapes and Shadows

Here are a very brief collection of photography rules you should be aware of when taking photo with your iPhone.

The first thing you stumble upon when you start doing iPhoneography is the rule of thirds. It gives you the very basics rules of composition. It makes you understand there are rules in photography you should take care about when shooting with your iPhone too.

That usually happens when you discover grid option in your iPhone camera. So, now you have two vertical and two horizontal lines on your screen. The rule of thirds comes with an impressive theory, but I will try to simplify it in just a couple of statements:

  • You should put the subject of your photo in one of the four intersections between guidelines: it improves the dynamic of the scene;
  • If your subject has a sort of animation, i.e. looks in a direction or does a movement, then put the subject on the vertical line more distant from the edge in which the action ends, so to create a movement in the picture, from one side to the other, and to leave less negative space behind your subject;
  • Take a decision: are you more interested in the sky or in the earth you are looking at? Then put the horizon line on the upper or lower horizontal guideline according to your chose.
In this pic I put a piece of wood on the beach to focus on details in foreground (taken with PRO HDR and edited in Vscocam).

iPhoneographer Guy Yang has a wonderful in deep analysis of the rule of thirds in his iPhoneography Camera Essentials course on Udemy. He points the attention also on quadrants, an aspect usually forgotten in a lot of tutorial online. Just to keep it simple, I could summarize in this way: the four guidelines form 25 quadrants and you can choose every one of them to put your subject in a particular frame. For example, you can frame your subject into a four quadrants space instead of just sticking it in an intersection between two guidelines.

Lines can help you to give meaning to a couple of people walking on an empty road (taken with Hipstamatic, KaimalMarkII lens and US1776 film)

I remember my first doubts about rule of thirds once I came up with this picture in witch the rule is subverted. Yes, rules are made to be broken. In this special case, I applied a trick I was not conscious about at that time: use lines to guide the eye through the picture. Best lines are those that cut the picture from one side to the other, driving through the image. If you put the subject of the photo on one of this line, its action would be in a sort of way partecipated by the people looking at your pic. If you like to take familiarity with lines you should definitely shoot for a period with AdjustGrid, a free app that gives you lots of different grids.

Again, rule of thirds combined with lines: you go from the rock to the tree to the port and then focus on the light (taken with 645 PRO).

This build is not in the middle of the pic, but here I have used lines and rule of thirds to give more dynamism to the image (taken with Pureshot).

Using lines you can put your subject in the middle of the composition without losing dynamic, but simply positioning it in the intersection between two lines. The same kind of harmony can also be reached using a symmetric composition, as that created by two parallel tree rows.

Shapes are another formidable tool to improve your photo quality. It’s hard to explain the magic effect they can add to a pic, but it’s really simple to get it when you see it. If your subject or the frame in which it’s included have a sort of shape, you should focus on that to compose your picture, or just use it to fill an empty space.

This picture was taken during a wonderful evening with a very impressive moon reflected by the sea. Here, lights and shadows were my only interests (taken with 645Pro, edited in Photoshop Express).

Sometimes shadows create shapes you can use. Or maybe just divide your pic in two or three parts: if that happens, try to follow the shadow to compose your pics. Shadows are connected with light source and, as I wrote in my first post in this project, when it comes to iPhoneography it’s all about light. Then, if you follow the light, you will end up finding a line, visible or not, coming from the source and hitting your subject, even if you were shooting in front of the sun. Giving consideration to the line of light also can help you to achieve better compositions.

This is a personal project with two goal: learning how to better shoot with my iPhone and improve my English. Every feedback and correction is welcome.