Making a Photo Memorable Using Composition Techniques

Broadway Tower, Cotswolds, England – Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Broadway Tower, Cotswolds, England – Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

When a photographer sees a moment or something they want to photograph, their brain immediately starts thinking about how they can compose the photo to emphasize what they want to express or to make the photo the most aesthetically pleasing as possible. An experienced photographer will know many different techniques they can implement when creating their photo. There are some compositional elements that a photographer can employ with the intention to invoke emotion, when done well, such photos tend to leave lasting impacted upon their viewers.

In this post I will cover a few of the common techniques that can be used to invoke emotion in a photograph.

Contour Bias

Images that possess sharp angles and pointed features will invoke entire different types of feelings compared to images with rounded angles and soft features. Sharp edges tend to activate a region of the brain that controls fear. Humans general find sharp angles to be threatening. When aiming to create a very tense photo or to convey fear, you can include sharp edges to help enhance those feelings. Rounded angles causes more positive feelings in the viewer (Lidwell, 2010). When looking at the photo above the round edges of the castle and the curvature of the ground help convey feelings of refuge and solitude and perhaps even safety for some. 


How color is captured in a photo plays a huge role in how the image impacts its viewers. Colors can reinforce the meaning of a photo. It’s best to use a limited amount of colors compared lots of colors. When there are too many colors in an image it becomes noisy and distracting. Simplifying the amount of colors will help viewers connect with the photos more. The types of colors used also express meaning, even the amount of saturation in the colors says something about the photo (Lidwell, 2010). In the photo above there are only 5 colors of varying shades and black, all very saturated. Each object is distinct from the other in color, shape and size, thus creating an image your brain can easily process and identify with. 

Ockham’s Razor

“Ockham’s razor asserts that simplicity is preferred to complexity in design” (Lidwell, 2010). What Ockam’s Razor is essentially saying, the more complex something is the less efficient it is. Photos that resonate with people and leave lasting memories are somewhat simple photos. The subject is clearly identifiable, there are few background distractions, and everything that’s meant to be focused on is clearly in view.

Rule of Thirds

This is the most basic and common of all photography compositions that is used to create amazing and memorable photos. The main principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine cutting up an image up into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 sections. With those thirds you create a grid that helps you identify the four points where you should consider placing your point of interest (Rowse). It’s most common to place your subject in any of the intersecting point on the grid. Also, when composing the photo the horizon is usually one third from either the top or bottom of the photo. Above you can see how the gross goes up one third from the bottom of the image. The castle and woman are also about one third from their perspective edges. Many photographers break this rule and that’s ok. It is a principle used one way or another in the vast majority of the most well known and memorable photographs. 

Series on How to Make Impactful Photos

1. What is considered an impactful or memorable photo?
2. What makes a photo more memorable or impactful than another photo?
3. What are the key elements of a memorable photo?
4. What specific elements of a photo make it so memorable?
5. What is it about those elements that leaves such an impact on people?
6. How can a photographer make more photos that are memorable?
7. How can a photographer capture intensity in a photograph?
8. How do people’s faces affect the memorability of a photograph?


Lidwell, W., & Holden, K. (2010). Universal principles of design: 125 ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions, and teach through design ([2nd ed.). Beverly, Mass.: Rockport Publishers.

Rowse, D. (n.d.). Rule of Thirds. Digital Photography School RSS. Retrieved April 4, 2014, from

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