Creative Composition Tip: Get Out of the Middle!

An off-center subject placement will make your photo more visually appealing

by Rob Sheppard

Toro Falls in Costa Rica
Toro Falls in Costa Rica
© Rob Sheppard
All Rights Reserved
Research years ago showed that people who looked at a centered composition simply looked at whatever was in the center and then moved on to another image. When people looked at an image that was not centered, they spent more time looking at the subject and moving their eyes around the photo.

Wouldn't you like people to spend more time with your photos? Even the simple use of the rule of thirds can help if it gets subjects out of the center. However, the rule of thirds was made by painters and such artists who create images from an empty canvas. They can put things anywhere in the composition. As photographers, we have to deal with the real world and making a composition from it. So things don't always fit the rule of thirds.

Just get that subject out of the center. When you do that, look at the rest of the image and see what is happening there because it now becomes more important. Look for relationships between the subject and the rest of the photo. You can see all of this happening in this image of Toro Falls in Costa Rica.

Notes from the editor...

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Rob Sheppard
Photography Instructor: Rob SheppardRob Sheppard has had a long-time and nationally recognized commitment to helping photographers become better photographers, regardless of the equipment and technology. He was the editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine for 12 years and was the original editor of PCPhoto (now Digital Photo). Now he is editor-at-large.

He is also the author/photographer of over thirty photo books, including The Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, The National Geographic Field Guide to Photography - Digital, and Adobe® Photoshop Lightroom for Digital Photographers Only. He writes regularly for Outdoor Photographer and teaches around the country, including workshops for the Palm Beach Photographic Centre and the Light Photographic Workshops. His Web site for workshops, books and photo tips is at, and his blog on nature and photography is at

As a photographer, Rob worked for many years in Minnesota (before moving to Los Angeles), including doing work for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Norwest Banks (now Wells Fargo), Pillsbury, 3M, General Mills, Lutheran Brotherhood, Ciba-Geigy, Anderson Windows, and others. His photography has been published in many magazines, ranging from National Geographic to The Farmer to, of course, Outdoor Photographer and PCPhoto.

He and his wife, Vicky (married 30+ years), live in the Los Angeles area. They have a son working on his Ph.D. in youth sports and education, and a daughter studying communications/journalism.

Also see Rob's Nature and Photography blog.