Beyond Composition: Designing the Architectural Photograph

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Hello ON1 Plus community and greetings from Chicago! Can we talk? Like many of you many of you, I was frustrated by the idea of composition for a long time. No matter how much I read or how deep I looked, I could never get an adequate explanation of how to do it right. “Place your subject off center and use leading lines” was about as deep as it went.

And so I went along my merry way, thinking I was doing the right thing…until I started shooting architecture by pointing my camera toward the sky. It was then that I realized that the “rule of thirds” was of no use to me and was nothing more than a cheat on good photographic design. Based on the emails and comments I’ve gotten from you, I’m betting that you’ve had similar frustrations. All that is about to change. These next two videos contain the keys to the kingdom of composition. I know you’ve heard that before but have a little faith! And keep in mind that we’re just scratching the surface here. There’s so much more! Watch them and let me know what you think.

Beyond Composition Part I: Designing the Architectural Photograph

Beyond Composition Part II: Designing the Architectural Photograph

Download the Geometric Guides seen in these videos.

60 comments on “Beyond Composition: Designing the Architectural Photograph”

    1. On February 20, 2018 at 11:13 am Gilbert Sauve replied:

      I’ve downloaded the Geometric guides then imported them in ON1 using /manage extras/import and sending them in the «Backgrounds» file.
      You then simply open a picture file in layers and add one or both Geometric guides files as layers and use move tool (keep proportions while resizing by pressing shift key). Lines will be easier to see over your picture if you change blend mode to «difference».

      1. On February 24, 2018 at 2:53 pm Richard Wise replied:

        Can you share the guides that you used on the ON1 website? I have not had any luck finding the guides that I can import into ON1.

    2. On February 20, 2018 at 2:42 pm Jim Welninski replied:

      Gilbert has an excellent strategy below. My intent is that they would be as a layer in the Layers Module. Impoting and storing them as a background is the way to go.

    3. On February 21, 2018 at 12:00 pm Gar Leonard replied:

      How would your design guides work on pictures you took with a TS lens? The pictures your using are leaning into each other, falling back and, in general, out of proportion to reality?

      1. On March 2, 2018 at 6:25 am Jim Welninski replied:

        I’d use them the same way. Neither the lens used nor the specific content of the photo make any difference. It’s the math of the grid that matters.

  1. On February 19, 2018 at 6:11 pm Adam Rubinstein wrote:

    Great discussion on the use of the principles of symmetry. I was a bit confused by your references in the early part of the video. We’re you referring to the golden ratio Phi which is an irrational number? Phi can be used to construct pentagrams, the golden triangle, and other geometric figures you used in your overlays. Alternatively, Phi can be used to generate the golden spiral which is a logarithmic growth expression and can be applied in this approach as well. In any event, the science of symmetry has important applications to esthetics, art, architecture, astronomy, and a myriad of other disciplines. Thanks for opening a window to the magic of the golden ratio.

    1. On February 20, 2018 at 2:44 pm Jim Welninski replied:

      Hi Adam,
      You seem a bit more schooled in mathematics than I am. I belong to the 1+1=11 club. I’m referring to it in the context of constructing geometric figures.

  2. On February 19, 2018 at 8:32 pm Alan Smallbone wrote:

    Awesome set of information, need to watch a couple more times but it is really sinking in. Thanks for the inspiration…


  3. On February 20, 2018 at 7:09 am GerryP wrote:

    A very interesting perspective (no pun intended) on the design elements for architectural photography. Seems more geared to the analysis of a photograph than its synthesis.

    Wondering how to best apply this information. Are these guides universal? Seems most applicable to lines and angles (architectural) photography. I think, not as much use in other photo-genres. So, as with all composition and design, need to develop an “eye” for the angles and intersection points in my architectural shooting; and then tune things in editing with crops, transforms, tones, etc.

    Plenty of other overlay guides — several of these in PS-Crop. Just need to learn which works best in the different photo-genres. The real goal is to please the eye/brain, and to find the tool that is best at accomplishing this.

    1. On February 20, 2018 at 2:53 pm Jim Welninski replied:

      Hi Gerry,
      These principles can be used in any type of design. They can certainly be applied in any genre of photography. It is a matter of thinking in this way rather than thinking in the rule of thirds. Because this system is based on natural proportions (see DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man) we find designs based on it inherently pleasing. This really is a rabbit hole. Once you start exploring it, you’ll probably find it difficult to see things any other way.

  4. On February 20, 2018 at 7:41 am Wayne Gallagher wrote:

    I shall never walk into a museum, hotel, airport etc again without taking a little extra look for the geometric features.

    Excellent video, very interesting and thought provoking.


  5. On February 20, 2018 at 1:09 pm Rick Mangun wrote:

    How can I get in touch with Jim Welninski? Is there an email address?

      1. On February 20, 2018 at 8:08 pm Rick Mangun replied:

        I am putting some grids that I drew in CAD into ON1. I am interested in your method…and haven’t found it so far in the videos. Where can I locate that information.

      2. On February 23, 2018 at 8:34 am Jim Welninski replied:

        Hi Rick,
        I’m providing the grids and a strategy for using them. There isn’t enough time here to go into the particulars on how to make them. Another time, I hope. Sorry about that.

      3. On February 23, 2018 at 2:39 pm Rick Mangun replied:

        I made the grids (and others) in illustrator as a tabloid size…then exported them as a transparent .png file. Then to access the grids I went to the following Directories….Library/Application Support/ON1/Extras 2018….then added a new directory and named it Grids. Placed the png files there so that I could excess them easily.
        I don’t see an easy way to share either screen shots or the .png files.

  6. On February 20, 2018 at 11:50 pm Ian Wade wrote:

    A very interesting video series. Thank you Jim. I could do with some advice on how to modify the grids to suit a 4 x 3 format.

    1. On February 23, 2018 at 8:35 am Jim Welninski replied:

      Hi Ian,
      I’m providing 4×3 grids along with the next video. Today, hopefully.

  7. On February 21, 2018 at 2:19 am Anthony Parsons wrote:

    You can always add the grids as a Texture on On1 (change file names to stack.psd and grid.psd to get them to upload). The advantage of this method is that the grids auto resize to fit your image and you don’t have to jump into Layers because they are always available in Effects.

    1. On February 23, 2018 at 8:36 am Jim Welninski replied:

      Importing them as textures is the way to go. I’ll show everyone how in the next video.

  8. On February 21, 2018 at 6:14 am alberto griffini wrote:

    interesting video but at first sight it seems complex at least for me.
    I use DxO ViewPoint for years and the results I get seem satisfactory but still more

  9. On February 21, 2018 at 8:37 am David Price wrote:

    Hi Jim
    Very interesting, and it takes me back to Art Class at School, where the art teacher used to talk about composition through triangles. He used to put up slides of the ‘work of the old masters’ and show how the various people and/or objects in the pictures were spaced across the canvas in triangle patterns. He also explained that triangles need odd numbers to be sucessful.
    You make a very good case for the limitations of the rule of thirds, especially with the lady jumping over the trough, which breaks every one of the Camera Clubs Judges favourite rules. But, rules are there to be broken.
    Interestingly, I have a set of CSC cameras, (Lumix), and the viewfinder can be set to display guidelines, which include a set of triangles. I would suspect that other camera brands can also do this. However, the Lumix guideline grids are not as ornate as the grids that you were using.
    Best wishes, David Price.

    1. On February 23, 2018 at 8:41 am Jim Welninski replied:

      Hi David,
      Those darn art teachers! They were right after all! The triangle is the basic building block for spatial relationships. And none of the modern cameras I have seen have an elaborate set of viewfinder grids. The way to use these is to print them on a sheet of clear acetate. Print it the size of the LCD screen on the back of your camera and use a piece of tape to secure it.

  10. On February 21, 2018 at 8:45 am Bruce Roberts wrote:


    Very interesting! A lot of food for thought.

    There was one thing that bugged me. On my monitor your rule of thirds gridlines were off. The rectangles on the right for landscape and at the top for portrait were longer than the center ones. Any idea why they were distorted on my monitor?

  11. On February 21, 2018 at 1:29 pm Paul Lerley wrote:

    This presentation is just beautiful! The closer I look at the world around me, the deeper my appreciation and sense of awe of Creation is becoming. Us photographers are truly blessed to be able to see beyond the obvious! Your comments are also a reminder that we are all standing on the shoulders of giants! Humbling… :>)


  12. On February 21, 2018 at 1:58 pm Warren Kaplan wrote:

    Hi Jim,
    Fascinating set of videos, thanks!
    When you compose in camera do you have a way to superimpose any of these grids over the viewfinder image, or are you visualizing them based on your experience?
    I’m toying with an idea to get these guidelines onto a live view screen but at the moment it can be very time consuming and kludgy.
    Looking forward to the next installment.

    1. On February 23, 2018 at 8:44 am Jim Welninski replied:

      Hi Warren,
      The way to use these is to print them on a sheet of clear acetate. Print it the size of the LCD screen on the back of your camera and use a piece of tape to secure it. Works like a dream. After a while, you won’t need them anymore because you’ll see the angles.

      1. On February 23, 2018 at 9:29 pm Graham replied:

        What a fantastic way of using them

  13. On February 22, 2018 at 7:06 am alberto griffini wrote:

    Disattiva traduzione istantanea
    my on1 plus registration email is:

    many greetings and forgive me my slow response is due to non-knowledge

    dell’eleele for which I have to use google translator

  14. On February 22, 2018 at 7:20 am Peter Gunnel wrote:

    Hi Jim,

    That was breathtaking – thank you! To echo Ian Wade, above, any pointers on 4:3 format and how also to utilise with On1 Resize would be interesting as it offers a variety of formats. I’d welcome any tips on how to shoot with such grids in mind, from a practical perspective (forgive the pun).

    Looking forward to your next video already!

    1. On February 23, 2018 at 8:45 am Jim Welninski replied:

      Hi Peter,
      I’ll provide you with 4×3 grids with the next video. The way to use these is to print them on a sheet of clear acetate. Print it the size of the LCD screen on the back of your camera and use a piece of tape to secure it.

  15. On February 22, 2018 at 8:19 am Bohdan wrote:

    That was absolutely wonderful stuff Jim. I would just like to mention that ever since I took my first picture back in Viet Nam, there were many learned people that kept trying to educate me on the rule of thirds. I had an extreme difficulty of grasping this concept and their idea of a what technically sound picture should look like. To this very day, the rule of thirds still doesn’t make much sense to me. For the most part I take pictures that work for me and not worrying about the technical reasons behind them or follow any kind of rule to satisfy the technical community. After all the pictures I take are my creation and vision of what I see. If that makes any sense to you. That said, after watching your videos I will go back and place your grids on some of my pictures and see what falls out.

    Once again, thank you for all that you do to advance the art of photography and help us unlearned people to become better.

    1. On February 23, 2018 at 8:46 am Jim Welninski replied:

      If you want a real eye opener, print a grid on clear acetate and tape it over the LCD screen on the back of your camera. Then take the camera to an art museum and be amazed!

  16. On February 22, 2018 at 2:54 pm Elizabeth Girardeau wrote:

    Wow! And Thank You! I have been balking at the rule of thirds ever since I really got back into photography 6 years ago. Now all my reasons why I could not buy into the rule of thirds makes sense. Thank you again.

    1. On February 23, 2018 at 8:49 am Jim Welninski replied:

      Hi Elizabeth,
      Glad you saw it right away! Some folks struggle with it, thinking the good photos they make are somehow not good because they violate the rule.

    1. On March 8, 2018 at 2:07 pm Mark Gelula replied:

      Thank you Mark for this excellent link. I am a voracious reference follower and being able to download some of these books is a real bonus to this course.

  17. On February 24, 2018 at 8:48 am Lars Jönson wrote:

    Very interesting video, and very beautiful example images.
    What strikes me is that it obviously is a wellknown concept in art-cirkles, but in all the books I have read about photography, composition, improving your photos…, finding your way…, 50 tips and tricks… and what ever – no one says anything else than rule-of-thirds with slight variations.
    Time to rewire your brain :-)

    About 4/3: If we transform a 2:3 to 12:8 and 4:3 to 12:9, we see that the difference isn’t that big. As the proportion 2:3 just happened with the advent of 135-film and the old golden ratio is 1: 1.618 (which translates to 12:7.42), what you show us in this video isn’t “right” either…
    So, I guess it’s no rule – more of a guideline… :-)

    1. On March 2, 2018 at 6:38 am Jim Welninski replied:

      However you want to look at it Lars. The point is that the grids work. Always. If that doesn’t translate into being a “rule” then I’m not sure what does. And it makes no difference when a particular aspect ratio came into vogue. The geometry of the rectangle itself, whatever its particular properties are, is the key. A 12:8 rectangle has a grid of its own, just as a 12:9 rectangle has a grid of its own. They may seem similar in their simplest form, which is what we worked with here. But when you begin to add more diagonals to them (diagonals based on the specific geometry of that particular rectangle), the difference becomes much greater. Of course, I’m not a lover of rules myself, so I take creative liberties when it suits me.

      1. On March 2, 2018 at 12:58 pm Lars Jönson replied:

        Hi Jim,
        I intended to comment on my own comment here – but now I’ll give a comment to Your comment…
        I didn’t mean to sound critical or harsh – it’s a little difficult when You have to express yourself in a short text – and in an other language.

        Usually when I read a book or se a video online, I think that if I can pick out a little piece of advice or some small things to think about when out on a shoot, it’s been worth the money. Your videos (plus info on the website Mark linked to) however, changed my whole way of seeing composition instantly. Since I saw the two first videos I have been digging deeper into the whole concept, and I see now that You gave a little example.

        I have allready used it when away photographing a church last weekend.
        I will have to watch Your videos again, and dig deeper into this…

        Thank You for really inspiring videos.

    1. On March 2, 2018 at 6:41 am Jim Welninski replied:

      They work on any camera. What matters is the aspect ratio of the frame, not the camera itself. A DSLR has a 2:3 frame ratio, which means you would use the 1.5 grid. A micro four-thirds camera has a frame ratio of 4:3 so you would use the grid for that aspect ratio.

  18. On February 27, 2018 at 10:44 pm Wes Neuenschwander wrote:

    Brilliant. I’ve already attempted to apply the furnished grids to a number of my photos (architectural and otherwise) and find them extremely instructive.

    My question is: How can the grids be adapted to different aspect ratios? I shoot mainly with M4/3 so have a native aspect ratio of 4:3. However – like most photographers I frequently crop my photos at some point in PP. I realize I can use the Move and Crop tools, but am not sure how appropriate (and true to the original theories) are in use (especially the Crop tool).

    1. On March 2, 2018 at 6:44 am Jim Welninski replied:

      Hi Wes,
      Check the download files for the next video. Micro four-thirds grids are provided there.

      The grids are appropriate and fully effective whether you crop or not. It is the geometry of the frame that matters. If you crop, simply apply the grid during or after the crop.

  19. On February 28, 2018 at 8:55 am Volker Gottwald wrote:

    Each rectangle has its own grid. You can not stretch the grid of one ratio and apply it to another one since the reciprocals are then not in 90 degrees to the diagonals anymore. So in consequence you need to stick to a few standard ratios like 3:2, 4:5, 16:9 and create the grids for those. The best ratios to use, if you want other than the standard ratios given by different camera types are the so called “root rectangles”: root 1 (ratio 1:1 = square), root 2 (ratio 1: 1.414), root 3 (ratio 1:1.732 – close to 16:9), root 4 (ratio 1:2), root 5 (1:2.236). (Look at page 38 of Jay Hambidge’s book. Link above.)

  20. On March 2, 2018 at 12:02 am Ian Smith wrote:

    Have imported the grids into Background/Extras, but they have a black background which covers the image

  21. On March 5, 2018 at 12:52 pm Roger Horrobin wrote:

    Hi Jim. Sorry but you lost me towards the end of video 1 when it seemed (to me) that what you described as an ok photo suddenly became a good photo when you drew lots of straight lines at different angles over it and then explained that the architectural angles loosely conformed to most of those Pythagorean (?) lines – especially if you turn the grid upside down, which made it an even better photo! It all struck me as a bit tenuous. Interesting, but surely a good natural eye for composition will always tend to produce a photo that will ‘fit’ any of your grids. whichever way up they are – and as long as they are not the ‘rule of thirds’ grid. And why does a good exterior or exterior architectural design or décor photo have to fit to a geometric grid anyway? It’s a bit like finding a suspect and then fitting the crime to them.

    1. On March 5, 2018 at 11:27 pm Jim Welninski replied:

      Hi Roger,

      Sorry, but you completely misunderstand my approach. The grids are a tool. Nothing more. Just as the camera is a tool and Photo RAW is a tool. What can be accomplished with them depends entirely on the vision and skill of the user. As one of my mentors once told me, “Tools do not a great artist make”. The purpose of the grids and the system that underlies them is to better understand design and inherently pleasing spatial relationships. We then take that knowledge into the field, combine it with everything else we know about our art form, and make great work. As with all tools, once we understand them we are free to take liberties with them.

      And no, a good “natural” eye is not enough. A home cook with natural skills will never be as great as a classically trained chef who has mastered the entire range of cooking techniques. A good natural ear for melody and harmony won’t make one a great musician or songwriter. When all a musician knows is a G chord progression, then it seems as though every song he hears is based on that. When he realizes that isn’t the case, the solution isn’t just “anything other than that progression”. He must learn and master all the underlying principles and techniques in order to have complete command over the entire range of options and possibilities. Only then is he truly free to take “a little of this” and “a little of that” and put them together. That is the difference between “good” and “great”; between “journeyman” and “master”. If he improvises without mastery then whatever great work he makes, he makes by accident.

      You are, of course, free to your opinion and all things “art” are certainly open for debate. And in the end, I suppose it really depends on what you want out of your photography. There is no “right” answer. I felt that I and other photographers I know and teach were leaving too many options on the table due to a lack of mastery in this area. These principles opened many doors for all of us. As a teacher, it is my duty to pass on what I have learned to others. Long ago, I accepted the fact that not everything I teach resonates with everyone. I hope you were able to take something of value from the videos. If not, I understand and I appreciate the attention you gave to them and the time you took to write.

      1. On March 7, 2018 at 3:52 am Roger Horrobin replied:

        Thank you Jim. I do get all your points but just feel that there are so many good photos, paintings, architectural designs, etc, that don’t conform to those ‘rules’. The world of music that you cited is a good example, in which there are thousands of singers, musicians, composers and lyricists who have succeeded in thrilling and filling the world of music without having had an ounce of formal training and simply developed their own innate ability and creativity. Ok, you can analyse their work in reverse and determine that it follows all kinds of established musical principles, but they didn’t think of those principles when they played or wrote from the heart. America and the UK have given birth to so many of those legendary musicians and musical artists, far outnumbering any you can think of (eg Bernstein) who were classically or formally trained and who knew precisely what they were doing when they created something that bent or broke the rules. Enough said.
        Thanks for the insight. It was interesting, really, and I will challenge myself to keep looking at your videos to discover if I can see along the same lines. (Please forgive the pun. Its not a dig.)

  22. On March 7, 2018 at 2:17 pm Stephen wrote:


    First of all a BIG THANK YOU!! Both videos are fascinating; and, as others have stated, will need to be watched again and again to to really seat the principles you have spoken of and demonstrated.

    In the final moments of the second video you spoke of the book by Jay Hambridge and a next video where you move into the effects module. I am at loss to locate that video. I would be grateful if you could point me to or provide a link to that video.

    Once again, Muchas Gracias!!

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