Subject Placement | Photography Basics

How a subject is framed in an image really does show the difference between an amateur happy snap and a considered and more “professional” photograph.

Years ago when I worked on cruise ships we had to photograph thousands of people in similar situations exactly the same way. Even though we were using digital cameras there was no time to crop or edit the pictures before we printed them. This meant we had to get the subject placement perfect every time which isn’t as easy as it sounds when your taking hundreds of photos in a short space of time. We had a saying “apples and balls cropping” which was basically cropping the photo so that the top of the frame would be if they had an apple on their head and the bottom of the frame cut them off at the erm……just below the waist.

Photography Basics Memory Gate


This is just one example of an acceptable 3/4 style portrait but it it by no means a perfect rule.

When you are trained to photograph this way it certainly stops you from leaving too much headroom above a subject though!

Subject Placement

When considering subject placement there are a few factors to take on board. Use a Rule of Thirds grid overlay to help position your subject. Ideally you will want the subject to be positioned at or within the intersections of the grid. Even of a subject is off centre if it is placed along a rule of thirds grid line it will still look good and not be too confusing for the eye.


Ultimately what we are trying to achieve is balance within our frame. We never want too much of one thing or not enough of another.

If we achieve this in camera then we are going to create better images.

Subject Placement rule of thirds

Experiment time


Practice framing your subject following the apples and balls rule. Try photographing people in different situations, they can be sitting at a table or standing in a field, whatever you like.

Stretch that rule a bit further an compare your images. When do you feel there is too much headroom in your images?


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