Elements of a Great Photo: Quadrants for Composition

What makes a great photograph?

A once in a lifetime capture? Drama or silence? Love or war? There is no formula per se; but there is a sort of track record of successful ingredientsI would describe it as the right mixture of technical know-how, telling a story or evoking emotion, and an artistic composition that supports the two. In this article I'd like to either introduce or resurrect the principle of Quadrants for better composition. Using the principle of quadrants in your photography can help add an appealing form and function to your work, and further help tie the elements of a great photo together.

Take a look at this video by YouTube user Every Frame A Painting. His page is packed with thought provoking analysis of film form. This video will reverse engineer quadrants from their final form in a particular film, down to their most elemental functions.

What is a Quadrant?


A quadrant is simply an equilateral division of a frame into four equal parts, used to guide you in framing of your subject, subjects, or photographic elements.

Quadrant Example Cameraplex

Quadrant Example Cameraplex

It is similar to the more commonly known Rule of Thirds.

Rule of Thirds

Rule of thirds is a compositional technique where the frame is divided, horizontally and vertically, into three parts, using two equally spaced lines.

Rule of Thirds Example Cameraplex

Rule of Thirds Example Cameraplex

The compositional focus of each is slightly different. In the quadrant system the focus of the objects or subjects in your frame lie within a zone, while with the rule of thirds grid they lie on the lines and the intersections.

Some cameras have build in grid overlays (typically rule of thirds), check you camera settings for this. Try shooting either with an actual grid overlay or with a grid in mind. This will help form the story you are tying to tell. If you already have experience with this, revisit it and dig deeper. Tell a different part of the story in each area of the quadrant. Contrast the story and light of one quadrant with that of another, give your photos a new dynamic built upon the elements of a great photo.