Composing an image means to decide how to place the elements inside the format.
The way you compose has a massive impact in the final result. A bad composition can ruin a good image and idea. It is as important as the colour palette or the style.
I always follow a specific procedure to develop my illustrations, especially at the beginning of the process.
Setting up the guides is the first thing I do after creating the Photoshop file.
To help me in this process, I use my particular version of the rule of thirds.
And I use guides in Photoshop, which make this system to work fast and painless.
The guides give me certainty and direction. The elements and shapes aren’t floating around; they are placed, built and based on those powerful invisible lines.
The rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is a simplified version of the golden ratio. It is based on Phi, a mathematical ratio, and has been used since antiquity and extensively by Leonardo Da Vinci, Dali or Le Corbusier.
The rule of thirds consists in dividing the composition into nine equal sectors using two vertical and two horizontal lines.
How I use the rule of ninths, my particular version of the rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is very practical because you can use it again unlimited times over the resulting sectors. Getting as many divisions and guides as you need.
I use the rule of thirds twice, which creates 3 times more thirds. So, we could call it also the rule of ninths.
This is extremely helpful because:
- You get some guides that allow you to define margins. For example, I rarely surpass the external sectors. I like to give space to the composition.
- The rule of thirds creates 4 attention points where you can place the most important element of the composition. In case of having two important elements, I place them in diagonally opposed points.
- I use those guides as a lines or shapes like horizon line, or other vertical or horizontal reference lines of my illustrations.
Break the rules
Some images require to break those rules, and I don’t have any trouble doing it.
Those guides are just for reference, and the nature of each image is distinct. Each composition should respond to each brief, as they produce different effects.
There are dozens of different composition diagrams. Rikard Rodin has a marvellous article about it, where he analyses more than 50 composition diagrams on posters.
You can’t miss it!
I create the guides based in the rule of thirds in one click. I use an awesome free Photoshop extension by Cameron McEfee called Guide Guide.
In addition to the rule of thirds’ guides, I like to add the vertical and horizontal midpoints guides. Very useful to centre elements. You can import my set of guides using this link in Guide Guide.
Paying attention to the composition has a huge impact on the final result.
Working with the rule of thirds and guides gives me direction. My steps are firm.
But I trust more my eye and my experience. I break and ignore those rules when I need it. Every image is unique.
Do you use guides or any theory for composing? How do you use them? As always, I would love your workflows in the comments!