Understanding the rule of odds in photography

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One of the basic and simpler rules for composing a photograph is the rule of odds. Photographic composition is often left to chance. You see something interesting – you photograph it. There’s a split second of time left for you to make a decision, which is why photographers aren’t as free as painters or designers to invest a lot of time in thinking about how exactly to compose the objects in an image. That is one of the beauties of photography – the fact that it is so unpredictable and spontaneous. But if you get a chance to methodically approach photography and employ some tricks that will make your imagers even better, it can never hurt to learn some basics about composition.

 

Look at how the left composition appears static and steady, while the right one is more dynamic and interesting

Look at how the left composition appears static and steady, while the right one is more dynamic and interesting

 

When arranging objects in a photograph, one of the first things you have to decide is what number of objects will be included in the shot. Having an odd number of objects in your photo is a simple way of making it more dynamic. It’s pretty simple actually. When you have an even number of objects in an image, like two, four or six, the brain tends to pair them up, hence separating the image into pieces and making it harder for the gaze to flow freely. But when you have an odd number of objects in a photograph, there’s always something left over, and the middle thing comes more into focus. In photography we call that the rule of odds.

 

 

If the number of the subject is odd, the brain will be less inclined on pairing them up into groups

If the number of the subject is odd, the brain will be less inclined on pairing them up into groups

 

The rule of odds particularly works with smaller numbers of objects, like three or five. Having more than five objects in an image will usually make the brain perceive them as a group; for that reason, it makes it harder to focus on one particular object and the gaze scatters in a way.

 

 

Three object in one image create a triangular composition

Three objects in one image create a triangular composition

 

Think about it like this: symmetry is pleasing and calming, but it also has a tendency to become boring. Having an odd number of objects creates more dynamic and flow. We like to break the rules, not everything has to be organized all the time, being playful makes life more fun and interesting.

 

 

The eye is immediately drawn to the central object, while the rest work as support

The eye is immediately drawn to the central object, while the rest work as support

 

The number three seems to be the magic spot that works the best in the rule of odds. Three objects in one image will create a triangular composition, and the eye will always be drawn to the middle one, while the other two work as support.

 

Pay attention to how the gaze travels through the composition

Pay attention to how the gaze travels through the composition

 

Similarly, with five objects usually there is a particular focus on one central figure, while others work kind of like back up dancers. Nevertheless, they all work together as a whole complete composition.

 

More than five objects per image is often translated to the brain as a group, and different composition rules apply

More than five objects per image is often translated to the brain as a group, and different composition rules apply

 

It doesn’t matter what the thing you are photographing is. It can be people, trees, flowers, oranges; the same rule of odds applies. Remember, the number of objects in a photograph is not the only thing that matters, and definitely not the only thing that will make your image interesting. But it is certainly a good starting point which can be developed into more complex shapes and forms as you develop your photographic practice. If you want to further advance your knowledge on how to use composition and color, check out our take on color theory.

By |2017-03-20T00:25:55+00:00March 19th, 2017|Categories: How-to Tips|Tags: |2 Comments

About the Author:

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Violeta Tesic is a photographer and visual artist based in Belgrade, Serbia. She graduated with a Masters degree in Visual arts from Nova Academy of Arts in Belgrade. Her work consists of various projects, shot mostly in a documentary manner, some are completely straightforward and others more of a conceptual nature. Landscape, nature, urbanism and architecture are some of the common topics she is interested in. Her work has been shown in a number solo and group exhibitions all over the ex-Yugoslavian region. In addition, she also writes critical texts about contemporary photography and the history of photography.

2 Comments

  1. Sheree Ritchie March 19, 2017 at 9:21 AM - Reply

    Does the rule of odds apply to 7 and 9? A: It does, but as I’ve said in the article, including as many as nine objects in an image will seem more like a group, if the brain cannot easily recognize an odd number of objects.

  2. mm
    Violeta Tesic March 23, 2017 at 2:36 AM - Reply

    I personally prefer symmetry in my photographs, but it is good to know some tricks!

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