The Most Valuable Rule in Photography That You Need to Know

Do you want your photographs to be more than just snapshots of landscapes and nature? Are you looking to capture the stunning beauty of the world and turn it into captivating artwork? To create that breathtaking photograph, the key is mastering the most valuable rule in photography - leading the viewer.

Leading the Viewer

Leading the viewer is a technique that allows you to direct the attention of your audience by using the elements such as composition, leading lines, lighting, atmosphere, and depth.

With this rule comes understanding in-camera principles such as rule of thirds and leading lines, as well as post processing techniques such as dark to light and cool to warm. Uncover the essence of unlocking the full potential of your fine art photographs by mastering these foundational principles and achieving your objective of captivating the viewer.

Rainier in Reflection

Mount Rainier and one of the Reflection Lakes at sunrise, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.


When it comes to photography, composition is a principle that can make or break a shot. It's all about finding the right balance between elements in the frame to create an engaging image that draws in the viewer. And while there are plenty of "rules" (Or guidelines, as I like to call them) to follow, the beauty of composition is that it's ultimately up to the photographer to decide what works best for them. Personally, I love playing around with different angles, perspectives, and framing techniques to create unique and dynamic compositions.

Rule of Thirds

You know what they say, "third time's a charm," but when it comes to photography, the rule of thirds might be the charm you need to take your pictures from ordinary to extraordinary. See what I did there? (Moving on...)

This principle, popularized by artists and photographers alike, is all about composition and balance. Essentially, you divide your frame into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, and then place your subject at those intersecting points. By following this simple principle, you can add depth, interest, and maybe even a bit of magic to your photos. Give it a try, you might be amazed at what a simple change in composition can do for your pictures.

Reach for the Sun

Joshua Trees at sunset struggling to get free of the sand dunes near Death Valley National Park, California.


Framing in photography is a technique in which you use elements within your image to create a 'frame' around your main subject. This method is a great way to draw attention to the key points of interest within your photo. It adds depth to the image, brings focus to your chosen subject, and provides a sense of context and scale. The beauty of framing lies in its versatility and its potential to turn and transform a regular shot into an exceptional one. Play around with this technique, and you will find your images gain a new dimension and visual interest.


Depth is a critical principle in photography that can transform a two-dimensional image into a scene that feels almost three-dimensional. Creating a sense of depth in your photos provides the viewer with a visual path to follow, drawing them into the image and guiding their eyes from the foreground through to the middle ground and finally to the background. This can be achieved through elements such as leading lines, layering, and the strategic use of light and shadow. By effectively using depth, you can make your photographs more immersive and engaging, helping your audience to feel as if they're part of the scene themselves. Regardless of the type of photography you specialize in, understanding and incorporating depth can significantly elevate the quality of your work.


The Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range looking towards Tunnabora Peak during a majestic sunrise, with colorful layers of sagebrush in the foreground, near Lone Pine, California.

Foreground Interest

Foreground interest is an incredibly powerful composition technique in photography! It's all about strategically placing captivating or significant elements in the front of your frame. This not only adds depth and context to your image but also guides the viewer's eye on a visual journey towards the main subject. Think of vibrant patches of flowers, interesting textures, lakes reflecting light, or even people. The key is to capture elements that beautifully complement your main subject and create an overall captivating ambiance. Remember, a strong foreground can turn an ordinary image into something truly striking and visually captivating!

Rule of Odds

The Rule of Odds is an incredible principle in photography that can greatly enhance the visual harmony of your images. You see, it suggests that an image becomes more captivating when it showcases an odd number of elements. By having an odd number of elements, you create a sense of balance without making the image appear too static or symmetrical. It's like finding that sweet spot between order and spontaneity!

Now, here's the exciting part: when you apply this principle to a group of subjects, the viewer's eye is naturally drawn to the middle subject, creating a delightful focal point. Picture-perfect, right? And guess what? It's not limited to just three birds perched on a branch or five flowers scattered across a field. You can apply the Rule of Odds to any number of subjects, as long as you want to create visually engaging and balanced compositions.

The Majestic Three

The Three Brothers at sunrise after a fresh snow in Yosemite National Park, California.

Fill the Frame

"Fill the Frame" is a fundamental principle in photography that you absolutely need to know! It encourages photographers to get up close and personal with their subjects or zoom in, so you can eliminate any distractions and make your subject the star of the show. The goal is to fill as much of the frame as possible with your subject, creating an image that's powerful and impactful. This technique is especially handy when you want to capture those amazing details and textures that might otherwise get lost in a wider shot. By filling the frame, you're making sure the viewer's attention is completely focused on your subject, with no distractions to steal the spotlight. It's all about creating a visually captivating experience.


Simplicity is a fundamental principle of photography that follows the adage of "less is more". It's about keeping your compositions simple and uncluttered, so the main subject remains the focus. Consider the elements you include in the frame and eliminate distractions that could take away from the subject, whether in person, in-camera, or during post-processing. By doing this, you create clean, clear, and powerful images that showcase the subject in the most impactful way.

The simplicity principle encourages photographers to think critically about their compositions, focusing on quality rather than quantity. It's all about creating visually striking and emotionally resonant images. Keep in mind that mastering this principle takes practice and experience, but it's worth it for the powerful imagery it can produce.


Phantom Falls surrounded by fog and the light of the setting sun, on Table Mountain in Oroville, California.

Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio, also known as the Fibonacci Spiral or Phi, is an incredible composition principle in photography that's rooted in mathematical theory. It's a natural phenomenon that can be found everywhere in nature, architecture, and art - and it's believed to contribute to creating visually pleasing and harmonious compositions.

In photography, the Golden Ratio takes the form of a spiral that you can overlay on an image. This helps you arrange the key elements of your photo along the curve of the spiral. The idea behind it is that by placing the most important elements at the intersections of the spiral, you create a natural flow that guides the viewer's eye through the image.

Viewpoint and Perspective

Viewpoint and Perspective are fundamental principles in photography that can dramatically alter the impact and message of an image. The viewpoint refers to the position from which the photograph is taken, while the perspective refers to the spatial relationship between objects within the photo. By simply changing your viewpoint, you can transform an ordinary scene into something extraordinary. A low viewpoint can make a subject seem more powerful, towering, or impressive, while a high viewpoint can provide a bird's eye-view for a comprehensive image of the scene.

Lights in the Subway

The Subway outside Zion National Park in Utah aglow from the sun’s light.

Similarly, altering perspective can change the way objects relate to each other in your image, playing with size and distance perceptions. For instance, a forced perspective can make a distant object appear the same size as a closer one, creating an intriguing and sometimes deceptive effect. Mastery of viewpoint and perspective allows photographers to create images that are not just visually striking but also rich in depth and meaning, offering unique interpretations of the world around us.

Post Processing: A Critical Step in Leading the Viewer

Post-processing is more than just an afterthought in photography; it's an integral part of the creative process that can significantly enhance the impact of your images and achieve the desired effect of leading the viewer. Implementing the principles of editing can transform a good photograph into an outstanding one by emphasizing the aspects that attract the viewer's attention and minimizing any distractions.

Remonstrance Against the Moraine

Sunrise light hits the peaks and clouds towering above the incredible turquoise waters of Moraine Lake, in Banff National Park, Canada.

Dark to Light

Imagine yourself walking through a dimly lit room. Suddenly, a light switches on and your eyes are immediately drawn to the illuminated area. This basic principle of light is also a fundamental concept in photography - what I call Dark to Light. As a photographer, it is important to consider where you want your viewer's attention to be drawn in an image. By making the brightest part of your photograph the focal point, you have the power to guide your viewer's eye exactly where you want it to go. It's a powerful tool that can create a stunning image that catches both the eye and the imagination. So, let's embrace the beauty of light and use it to create captivating photographs that tell a story and evoke emotion.

Cool to Warm

When it comes to photography, there are many principles that can guide us towards better pictures. I call one of these the Cool to Warm principle. This states that the eye is naturally drawn to the warmest areas of an image. If you want to guide the viewer's eye towards a specific part of the picture, you should make that area the warmest. This principle is similar to Dark to Light, but instead uses temperature to create contrast. So, next time you're snapping or editing a photo, consider using the Cool to Warm principle to create a more visually compelling image. It's a simple trick with a big impact.

Howse Pass and the Saskatchewan River

Howse Pass and the winding blue waters of the Saskatchewan River near sunset, in Banff National Park, Canada.


Picture this: a stunning landscape photograph of a lake, with a vibrant sunset and a vast mountain range in the background. As you take in the scene, the contrast of the image draws you in and creates a sense of depth. The closer objects in the foreground seem to pop out, while the background fades into the distance. That's the power of contrast in photography. By adjusting the contrast in your images, you can add dimension and intrigue to your shots. It's all about understanding the distance between your subject and your camera. Keep in mind that the closer your subject is, the more contrast it should have, while subjects further away need less contrast to maintain a sense of depth. Contrast can be a powerful tool in creating a sense of depth, whether it's capturing the trees in a dense forest or highlighting the distinct peaks of a majestic mountain range. By skillfully employing contrast, you can enhance the visual impact and convey the vastness of these natural wonders.

Bring the Viewer Along for the Journey

In conclusion, leading the viewer is an art that utilizes different techniques to guide the spectator's gaze across a photograph. It ranges from utilizing geometric principles such as the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Ratio, to manipulating viewpoint and perspective, and down to the critical post-processing stage. Techniques such as transitioning from dark to light, cool to warm, and altering contrast can dramatically enhance the visual appeal of an image. These principles not only make a photograph visually striking but also add depth and meaning, crafting a narrative that resonates with viewers. As photographers, mastering these techniques allows us to not just capture moments, but to weave tales without words, encapsulating the immersive beauty and vastness of the world around us in a single frame.