Nine photo composition tips for your slides

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Steve McCurry’s work speaks volumes. With a career that has spanned more than 30 years, McCurry is widely considered one of the icons of contemporary photography. The galleries on his website are well worth a visit.

The Cooperative of Photography recently created the short video below in which McCurry shares nine tips for good photo composition. These tips are just as valuable when it comes to incorporating photographs into a Keynote or PowerPoint slide presentation.

One of the best known rules of photography is the “Rule of Thirds”. I teach it in my extended workshops, and it is the first tip covered in the video. But there are eight other great ideas, some of which were new to me.

You certainly do not need a photograph on every slide in your presentation. But many slide presentations could benefit from a well-placed photograph or two. If you decide to use photographs in your presentations, McCurry’s tips might just come in handy.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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6 Responses to Nine photo composition tips for your slides

  1. Very good, as always. Thanks. Excellent video, very nicely made. I especially appreciate these tangential / broader perspective posts.

  2. marzolian says:

    Can you tell me the name of the music used in this presentation? The suggestions were great, but I found that the music attracted me so much that I stopped paying attention to the voice and images. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for sharing, John. Composition (and graphic design in general) fascinates me. Yet it’s an area I’ve much to learn about.

    Given that I blog about presenting, work in elearning, and am keen on photography, I love the way slide design, graphic design for elearning, and photographic composition intersect.

    In a way, these rules puzzle me a bit though, because some of them contradict each other. In particular, I wonder how to choose between either centring the dominant eye or making the composition symmetrical, and what does “the dominant eye” really mean?

    I’d expect “dominant eye” to mean choosing the main person in the shot. But again, I’m confused because each of the 3 examples of “dominant eye” shows only 1 person. So how do you decide which eye’s dominant? Maybe the “rule” would be better stated as “Centre either eye of the main face”. That’s not nearly as catchy though!

    Also, perhaps I take things more literally than they’re intended, but I noticed the dotted vertical lines weren’t always in the centre, and the horizontal lines didn’t always divide the shot into exact thirds. In fact the lines just emphasise where the photo’s features are – like the centre of an eye rather than the shot’s centre – which to me seemed a bit misleading by the video maker.

    Perhaps the video maker could’ve used a soft-edged line that’s much wider (say about 10 pixels), to show that the rules are just guides rather than precise measures.

    Still, I liked the quote from the photographer at the end saying rules are meant to be broken!

    You might be interested in a recent post of mine that shows a makeover of a photo slide. As well as composition, the post discusses good lighting for portraits, as well as how to format accompanying text to make it easier to take in. (By the way, as the post shows, generally I’m against centring a photo’s subject, because that tends to make a less interesting composition.)

    As always, comments are very welcome.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Terry.

      Thanks for the detailed comment. Initially, I had the same thought as you: that some of the rules contradict each other. But stepping back and looking at the entire video, it is clear that there is no way that one could take a picture that incorporates every one of these suggestions. I think that the idea is to have one, or possibly two, techniques incorporated to enhance the image. I am also not sure about which eye is dominant. Perhaps if the face is angled, it is the eye that is closest to the viewer? Or maybe if one eye is slightly more open than the other? I didn’t measure where the lines were (when thinking of the rule of thirds) but they looked close enough.

      Thanks for sharing the detailed post on the makeover of your slide. I appreciate the time that you took to walk people through it step by step.


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