In today’s post, we’re going to talk about one of my favourite composition rules you can use to spice up your food photos.
If your compositions are feeling a bit monotonous, or you’re stuck in a bit of a creative rut, compositional techniques can be a great way to jump start your creative juices and give you some new ways to explore food photography.
If you’d prefer to watch, rather than read, then here’s a video for you!
The rule that we’re going to be talking about today is the rule of odds. So we’re going to spend some time talking about what the rule of odds is, why it works, and then I’m going to take you through some examples of how I used the rule of odds to shoot some blueberry pie (because who doesn’t like blueberry pie?)
When you start delving into the world of compositional techniques, it doesn’t take long to realise there are about a million different ones you can try, and it can be pretty overwhelming if you’re new to using them.
The rule of odds is a simple technique to start with, and will immediately help you frame your subjects in your composition. To help get you started, I’ve got a free composition planning kit which you can download and print from the link below to help get you started, and I’ll be showing you how I use this, a little bit later on in the video.
The rule of odds states that when you’re including a group of subjects in your photo, an odd number, rather than an even number will produce a more interesting, and more visually pleasing composition.
In food photography, we’re often photographing a group of subjects, whether it’s cupcakes, pieces of fruit, several bowls of pasta or anything else, so it’s a rule that can be applied often.
When a frame includes an even number of subjects, like two or four, your brain tends to organise the subjects into pairs, which can make your compositions look a bit dull.
When you use the rule of odds to place one main subject in the frame, with two other supporting subjects, your eyes will naturally fall to a middle subject, giving your photo a focal point.
Your eye tends to naturally wander to the middle of a group, so using the rule of odds in your food photography, is a great, easy way to draw your viewers eye to exactly the part of the photo you want them to focus on.
Another thing that’s a really important part of food photography, and any other form of still life photography, is the shapes that we create with our subjects and props.
A common form of using the rule of odds is to have three subjects in the frame. This way, they either always form a line, or a triangle, and both of these are really visually pleasing shapes in a composition.
Something I do before every single shoot, is plan my photos by making a quick sketch of the structure.
This bit of planning allows me to spend a bit of time thinking through things like the composition technique I’m going to use, the camera angle, the props, the positioning, and I can get an idea on paper, of what my vision is for this shoot before I pick up my camera.
Food photography is a form of still life photography, rather than say portraiture which can be more about capturing fleeting, candid moments, so it pays to be a little more planned.
Now, I’ve something useful for you to help make this planning process a bit easier.
I’ve created a photography composition planning kit which you can download and print for free, just click below!
I use this kit all the time, because it’s already mapped out with the right ratio, and I added the rule of thirds grid on top, to give you a starting point for planning out your composition.
So, let’s jump into this shoot, and see how we can use the rule of odds.
We’re going to look at three different examples of the rule of odds in this post. I took three shots during this shoot of the blueberry pies, one with three subjects, one with five, and one with seven.
I wanted to keep this composition simple, so I placed the three pies in a line, creating that line shape we mentioned earlier, but that’s not the only shape created in this photo – more on this in a moment!
I used the rule of thirds grid on my composition kit to position each pie in the centre third. My sketch looked like this:
To keep things a bit interesting, I left one pie uncovered, to showcase the beautiful blueberries, and I decorated the other two pies with a few decorations.
While these decorations may look random, can you see the rule of odds in there too? I’ve placed the decorations in and around the pies in groups of 1 or 3, with the groups of three, forming triangles, which also adds interest to this composition.
Onto this next example, we’ve got 5 things going on, rather than three. This allows multiple triangle shapes to be present in the photo, framing each piece nicely. I still kept the main subjects to just three, to make sure that the photo had a focus.
Here’s how my plan looked on the composition kit:
The extra white bowl and tea strainer act as nice complementary elements to the main photo. Don’t be afraid to use your props in this way, to add shape and direction to your food photos.
In order to help the white bowl fit into the scene, I added some flour to it, as it’s something that would naturally be found on a table where you were rolling out pastry. Whenever you’re thinking about adding an element to your photo, make sure that it makes sense with what you’re shooting, as everything that goes in the frame adds to your story.
Here’s how the final photo looks, using the rule of odds with five subjects:
In the last example, we’re moving from five up to seven items. In this photo, I’ve used the three pies, plus four bowls, to create a diagonal line shape in the composition. When there are this many items in a photo, as well as the line shape there are also many triangles formed.
Here’s how this one looked in the plan:
I moved the sieve into the corner and placed it on a napkin to make it a bit less central, so it no longer features as a main piece in the photo. Instead it acts like a leading line down to the main pies.
Beyond seven items, your brain kind of stops being able to tell the difference between an odd and an even number, and instead just sees many objects, so in that case, the rule of odds becomes a bit of a moot point.
For example, in this photo of these blueberries, which I took just before I made these pies, there are so many, you would never know if there’s an odd or even number.
So there you have a simple but effective technique to try out in your food photography, the rule of odds. Don’t forget to download your free composition planning kit to help get you started!