These few composition tips are easy to conceptualize and implemement, and can transform an "okay" image into a great one. You might notice that I do not call them "rules". I adjust and tweak these approaches often, sometimes with great results. There is so much more to all of these topics. This is menat as a quick reference guide for you to try and mix up your photography approach.
I always try to keep in mind what I call the three pillars of a quality subject - The subject, the background and the light.
Obvious subject in good diffused light with a clean foreground/background
Obvious subject in good difussed light with a messy foregound that adds nothing to the image
Subject - A quality subject is paramount. Envision a field of flowers, do you choose to photograph the sun-dried flower half eaten by insects, or do you look for the "perfect" flower? The same approach can be applied to all subjects. Think of a spider with only six legs, not quite your textbook natural-history image of a spider. Be sure to look around for the best example of your subject. Sometimes you find only one. If that is that case, photograph it because photography is fun.
Background - The background, and foreground, which surrounds your subject must be free of distracting elements. When photographing flowers, for example, I will often remove dead leaves, sticks, bottlecaps, cigarette butts, or anthing else that might draw the viewer's eye away from the subject. Bright objects are typically the most distracting. However, I only remove things that are dead, down and detached, (or garbage) meaning I do not rip live things out of the ground. Using a shallow depth-of-field can help reduce sharpness in the background, thus reducing distracting lines and shapes.
Light - The light which illuminates your subject is very import. Consider the type of light and the angle of that light. We'll be considering natural light only, for this article. It is important to understand that not all daylight is the same. For subjects like a flower (again), we will find the best results when photographing in diffused, indirect light. That means when the flower is in shade, or during an overcast day, or close to sunrise/sunset. Typically (not always), direct midday light is not ideal for photography. It is too harsh and creates too much contrast. The color of a flower and the soft tones are best recorded with soft indirect light. Now, back to spiders. A spider often has little hairs all over its body. The angle of light, from sun to subject to your camera, can help to emphasize any potential texture and details your subject might present. Try photographing your subject with the light coming from the side to highlight this detail.
Clear subject in good light with a distracting background
I slightly repositioned my camera to remove the distracting white bokeh ligts.
The "Rule of Thirds" is a concept used in art to help us move our perspective so that our subject is not in the center of the frame, which can lead to an image looking static, without movement. Painters, use this rule, and photographers use this rule. This is one "rule" that I often and routinely break, though ALWAYS use as a framework of thought - I will explain.
First, some things need to be in the center of the frame. There is no other meaningful composition that adds any impact to the image. See the example of the Heron and reflection. The subject and the story here is the bird and its reflection alone, no importance would have been added had I included a background or froground element. I wanted to highlight symetry and stillness and did no want to leave room for "movement". This needed to be centered...
When there are mulitple elements to a scene, and you need to guide the viewer's eye to the subject, thus using the entire frame, the Rule of Thirds is the framework to use. Divide the frame into thirds, both horizontlly and vertically (some cameras have a grid in the viewfinder) and note where the lines intersect. It is on, OR NEAR, one of these four intersections where your subject is then positioned. Move yourself and camera around to achive this position.
The sunburst at the bottom-left intersection
Now what? Example: you chose the upper-left point for your subject's position in the frame. You now have the entire bottom-right, right, center, top and bottom of the frame that need something which adds to the image. Enter leading lines...
Leading lines are elements in your image, that are NOT the subject, but help to guide the viewer's eye towards your subject. They can be literal lines like a tree or a river, or implied lines like that of a person's gaze.
C-shapes make great leading lines
S-shapes can fantastic leading lines
Rocks, logs, footsteps in sand; anything could be a leading line
There are so many other (SO, SO MANY) compositional elements that could be discussed. But we'll save them for later. For now, try incorporating these 3 tips into your approach to photography. Little tweaks can make for big improvements.
I hope this very brief tip-sharing helps you achieve better results with your images. Ultimately, the beauty in the photo is yours to embrace, dont let me or anyone tell you otherwise. We are all just stumbling around trying to create more-compelling images, and these are some ways to help re-frame your approach in order to tell better photographic stories.