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How to Use Guides for Stronger Photos



If you are more concerned with photography, you must consciously decide on the composition of your images. The rule of thirds will not cut it anymore. One of the simplest and most powerful composition techniques are guidelines. Let's look at what they are and how they are used.

RELATED: Is the rule of thirds really a rule of photography?

Why composition?

Photography is an art form. Sure, there's not much art for your dog's snapshots taken with your iPhone, but there's still the possibility that a picture is more than just a disposable display of something.

Good pictures say something. It's not always a big, profound or cultural critique. Often it is "the world is pretty great" or "people can do cool stuff." The composition is just one of the tools that serve to convey the message.

Let's take a picture of myself.

[19659006] In this shot, I wanted to say a few things:

  • Humans are small and nature is big.
  • Humans still do pretty epic things in nature.
  • Speeeeeeed!

It's not exactly a Pulitzer Prize winning photo, but I think I managed to get my opinion across. Whenever you take a picture, think about what those affected should feel. Quiet? Angry? Excited? Inspired? Happy? Whatever it is, the composition will either make or break the message.

Now that we've been exploring why composition is so important, let's look at one of the most important composition tools: Guidelines.

What guidelines?

Guidelines are all lines in an image that guide or guide the eyes of the beholder. Because they use the human tendency to follow a line with our gaze as soon as we look at it, they are powerful enough to guide people to where to look in their image. Here are the leading lines in the photo above.

I count eight lines that all guide the viewer to the central mountain and the skier. When someone looks at the photo for the first time, when he looks at one of those lines, he is led straight to the subject: right where I want to look. Here you get the contrast between man and mountain as well as movement and speed. It's the part of the photo that most embodies the point I try.

Leading lines do not have to be straight. They can be curved, natural lines, like the coast or a tree.

And here are the leading lines in this photograph.

As you can see, most of the lines in the picture lead the viewer to the motif: to the lighthouse. The biggest thing that distracts from this shot is the series of lines of sun rays to the left of the shot.

As they turn away from the subject, they divert the viewer's eye out of the field, which is not ideal. If I were a painter, I would probably have drawn these lines in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, I had to work with the limitations of nature.

Guidelines can be natural or man-made, real or implied. Take this picture.

The strongest guidelines in this are the shadows of the pier. The pier itself and the horizon are the other two main lines that draw the viewer's attention to the people on the pier.

Or take this photo.

And that

In both pictures I used a very common trick: Since the world is 3D and a print or a screen is 2D, parallel lines seem to be too mate when you take a photo the distance. You can use any parallel lines, such as roads, buildings, alleys, railroad tracks, or other elements to direct the eye of your beholder into the frame and onto your subject. Just put them back in the middle of the two lines.

Here's the first shot with the added lines.

And the second.

Using Leading Lines

19659005] Leading lines are pretty easy to use. When you take photos, all you have to do is check if there are any existing lines you can use to direct the viewer's gaze. For this photo, I noticed that the wooden wall had some really interesting lines, so I chose an aperture that allowed them to stay visible and shoot away.

If you find lines, the guides are very easy to find landscapes shoot. The horizon itself is one, as are all ridge lines, rivers, or paths. That's why the lighthouse makes such a natural theme in this photo.

The only thing you have to look out for in the lines is that they do not distract the viewer from the subject. This photo has some incredibly strong lines, but they lead to … nowhere.

If there is a small boat or landmark, this would be an incredible shot. As it is, it's just a snapshot of a beautiful cloud formation and its reflection.


The use of existing lines to guide the viewer's gaze is one of the foundations of the composition. Play with all the lines you can find the next time you shoot.


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