On most photography and art websites today, anyone can easily find recommended tips, tricks, and rules for composition. For example, we have all heard of the Rule of Odds, the Rule of Space, the Rule of Thirds, Centered Composition, Leading Lines, and so on. And with anything new, these rules and tips, which are simple to apply, might seem fun and exciting at first. However, much like playing the game of tic-tac-toe when you were a child, the novelty wears off quickly, and the artist hits a plateau with their work that they can't get past.
Unfortunately, these often misinterpreted and unfounded "beginner level" concepts, which are usually applied independently to a composition, are far too restricting for the serious artist to exercise with any authority, flexibility, or expertise to a drawing, painting, or photograph. In turn, this lack of flexibility limits an individual's artistic style and makes it difficult for the viewer to distinguish one artist's work from another. For this reason, master artists and photographers don't use the Rule of Thirds, or any of the other so-called modern "rules," in their compositions.
In classical skill-based design, there are professional terms like Baroque diagonal, Sinister diagonal, gamut, coincidences, radiating lines, figure-ground relationship, classical balance, steelyard principle, aspective view, arabesques, reciprocals, root rectangles, the armature, golden section series rectangles, etc. Unlike the present-day "rules" in composition, classical skill-based design is an integrated set of design principles that work together and will allow the artist to create stunning works of art that have theme, variation, and harmony.
In the photographs below, notice how all the compositions that use Leading Lines, the Rule of Thirds, and the Rule of Odds look identical (have a cookie-cutter appearance) despite the difference in artist or subject matter.
Click here to learn more composition tips and techniques.
The Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Odds