Home Seller TipsProduct Photography Tips Product Photography Tips :: Composition, the rule of thirds and using dynamic diagonals

Product Photography Tips :: Composition, the rule of thirds and using dynamic diagonals

Composition in photography

Product photography tips from professional photographer Jo Bradford. This week Jo is going to explain the basic principles of good composition and how you can use these to make your products more appealing and sell better! Take a look at Jo’s other posts for more great advice on improving your shop front with better photographs – product photography tips

This week we are going to look at what makes a good photograph. We will look at basic rules of composition and balance, and how to make your images look more interesting.

The Rule of Thirds is a simplified version of something called the Golden Ratio; it was used by renowned artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, they knew that it would make their work more pleasing to the eye. And if it was good enough for them, then it’s good enough for us, so let’s look at how you can apply this simple idea to your pictures.

Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is the best-known principle of composition in photography. This is something that you would be taught very early on if you were to attend a photography course as it is considered by many to be the basis for making well-balanced, appealing photographs. The idea is that the human eye is naturally drawn to the area that is about two thirds up from the bottom of the picture. The way to use this to balance your own images is very simple. Imagine the photo you are taking is broken down into thirds horizontally and vertically, this would mean that the image had 9 sections, 3 sections across and 3 sections down.

Rule of Thirds photography tips

You will notice that there are four places where the lines of the grid cross. (Marked with red crosses in the illustration). These four intersections are the areas in the photograph that have the most appeal to a viewer. To make use of this appeal, you should frame up your shot so that you place your subjects or points of interest in these key areas.

The four lines that make up this grid are very useful guides for you to position the other elements of the picture along. Various studies into this ancient concept have shown that when people look at a picture their eye does not look at the centre first, but usually their eye is naturally drawn to one of the intersection points. Theoretically, if you use the rule of thirds, your photo will be more appealing. It will be correctly balanced, presenting the most natural way to view the image, rather than working against the viewers natural instincts. To test these theories I applied the grid to one of my most popular photographs to see if I had used the theory subconsciously myself.


In the photograph, Halcyon Days, you can see that the upper horizontal line perfectly matches the horizon. The land rises above the line and the sea sits below it. The balloons and their reflections are the subject of the photo; they are situated along the second vertical line and intersect with the 2 right side intersections on the grid. The final point of interest in the photo is the sun flare near the bottom – this is situated along one of the lines as well. So it would seem that I am more of a rule follower than I thought I was!!

It is important to remember that rules are made to be broken. So my advice is to learn the rule, then forget about it. Try to take the picture that feels most natural for you without getting all hung up on the rules. You may find that you naturally place your subjects according to the rule of thirds without even thinking about it – or it may turn out that your particular subject suits a different composition altogether. All that matters is that you understand the ideas of composition so that you can make informed decisions about when and where to apply them to your own work.

This photo from seventyseventyonedesign illustrates how pleasing the rule of thirds can be when applied to product photography. I laid a grid over this and the corsage sat perfectly on the bottom 2 intersections, perfect!

Corsage - photogarphy tips

Dynamic Diagonals

This is a very easy concept to get your head around. When thinking about placing your subjects in the frame you should consider using diagonals.

There are six main elements of design, line, shape, form, texture, pattern and colour, the strongest of these elements is line. Diagonal Lines evoke impressions of movement, which is why they are considered to be dynamic.

According to the Diagonal Rule, important elements of the picture should be placed along diagonal lines. Diagonal lines are a simple, yet effective way to breathe life and energy into a composition that feels static.

Diagonals also act as very effective leading lines to draw the viewers eye into the picture, it basically creates a path for the viewer to follow through the photograph that will lead them to the all important subject – your lovely product! Diagonal lines can also appear to give the image depth by suggesting perspective.

Ninja earrings - photography tips

Lilley has lined her products up along a diagonal rather than shooting them straight on, giving a great illustration of how diagonal lines can appear to give the image depth by suggesting perspective.

Do not just use lines rigidly from bottom corners to top corners, free yourself up, use off-centre diagonals, look for natural patterns and curves in your product that will give you the dynamic diagonal effect naturally. Going back to those studies into how people look at images, results showed that viewers expressed that a natural way to go into an image was by moving from left to right, this means that a diagonal line originating in the bottom left and moving up and right in the image makes the viewing experience very natural. A word of caution, don’t get carried away and have too many diagonal lines in one photo – less is more!

Camera Angles
I recommend that you try to shoot your product from as many angles as you can think of – I can’t tell you exactly which angles will work best for you as all of your products are different. But if you have lots of angles to choose from when you are selecting images later, you are bound to have one that does the job perfectly.

Boxed stationery set: Blue Tit (Blue and Cream)

EllaJohnstonArt demonstrates here that shooting from an angle slightly (but not directly) above the work, combined with the diagonal rule makes for a great product photo with lots of appeal.

Photographing your products from unusual and unexpected angles is not as crazy as it sounds. Shoot the straight forward, eye level angles first and then get experimental. Shoot around, under and over your subject, walk around it, crawl under it, climb up above it; shoot it in as many ways as you can think of. You may feel a bit silly doing this but when your product’s true personality emerges from your photos you will feel totally justified.

It’s Hip to be Square

As you know, the Folksy platform requires square photos for our product thumbnails. This is easy to achieve, when composing your picture remember to take into account that you will be cropping a side (or the top or bottom) off the picture to make it square and adjust your compositions accordingly at the time. This will make it a quick and easy job to crop it later, for listing as a square picture in your shop.
So that’s all from me for this time folks, I hope that you have been trying out the new skills you have acquired, leave me a comment and a link to your shop here if you have already uploaded some new photos to your shop using the skills you have learnt so far, I look forward to seeing how you are getting on!
See you in a fortnight,
Jo x

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Jo Bradford is currently the Photographer in residence at Plymouth College of Art and Design – find out more about her work at www.jobradford.com or visit her Folksy shop at Green Island Art Studios


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Konnie Kapow! March 14, 2011 - 12:25 pm

Hey this is fab! Thanks Jo, there are some really great tips here!


Gail March 14, 2011 - 8:05 pm

Thanks for using my photo. :)

Cinnamon Jewellery March 14, 2011 - 8:12 pm

Wonderful tips and photos! Thank you!

Rin March 15, 2011 - 12:41 pm

Fantastic – I knew the rule of thirds, but hadn’t thought about the use of diagonals as you’ve described them. Thanks for the tips!

ArtiiCraft March 15, 2011 - 6:11 pm

Thank you very much for such an informative explanation… very useful.

topnots April 1, 2011 - 5:46 pm

Appreciate your words of advice. yes i did get some parts of my greetings cards cropped off on Folksey because i make them oblong A5 size , but I couldnt really alter the size because it would affect the balance of the view in most cases. however i do see your point and will bare it in mind for the future. to be honest i m sick of working on these sites and not getting any result, which, as your helping to point out , could be my own fault to some extent. but i do try and i prefer really to sell face to face or via private shops and stores. i keep trying thanks any way.

do take a look at my site; However, i need to add more hats soon , as thats my main workthse days . i m having a new camera soon, ( left my old one in
Spain recently, ) and I m expecting some new models. i find real live models are best, even if only an eye is used in camera shot.

I pay models by giving them a free hat! they love it. Especially the ones with pretty eyes who look best in hats, which is what i want most. x Jas.

Jo Bradford May 31, 2011 - 8:59 pm

I am glad that the advice is proving useful – I will have a visit around all of your shops and see if you have been shooting with my tips in mind :)

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask!

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