5 Decorating Concepts To Steal from Pro Photographers

5 Decorating Concepts To Steal from Pro Photographers

Taryn Williford
Jun 8, 2015
(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

Thayer Photography Studio Tour

So here's the deal: I'm not a photographer. But I have taken some photography classes to support my creative little hobby. I've learned a lot about what separates a good photo composition from a poor one, and it turns out, there's not much difference between designing a beautiful photograph and a beautiful room. Here are five composition rules from photography that are easily translated to the world of interior design.

Each of these principles rings true at home just as it does within your viewfinder. If you have a room or vignette that just feels a little "off," change your lens and try on one of these guidelines for a masterful composition full of harmony, balance and beauty.

1. Leave a Little Lead Room

In photography, this means leaving space in front of objects that are moving or facing a certain way. You'll usually give lead room to a race car on a track or a person with their head turned—just enough extra space within the frame to give them room to move. If you have photographs or art on your wall with lead room, you can extend that lead room into your space, like with the portrait pictured above from A Sweet Spot in Melbourne. If you have a photograph of a person's right profile (so they're facing right in the photo), try hanging it to the left side instead of square in the middle of the wall.

(Image credit: David Dines)

2. Directional Objects Should Face Inward

Related to the concept of lead room, this rule suggests that anything with a clear "direction" should face inward to the space. A rug with a triangle motif or a lamp or plant that seems to point a certain way can be turned inward to the wall it's on or the room it's in to give a space more harmony. In the kitchen of Jennifer's Art-Filled San Francisco Home, you can see how the eye-catching champagne bottle poster gently points towards the kitchen. Were it facing the wall and window in the other direction, your eyes would leave the space almost immediately. This is especially helpful when you're putting together a gallery wall; if a photo or print seems to naturally point to the left, place it on the right edge of the gallery.

(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

3. Stick to The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is used to create energy and interest in a photograph, and it can do the same thing around your home. The idea is to keep important compositional elements placed along lines and intersections that divide the frame into thirds (here's a great gif from Wikipedia to demonstrate what a difference it makes in a picture). It's a great tip for arranging art on a wall or designing a vignette of loved objects. In Simran's Uniquely Beautiful Apartment, imagine the largest compartment of her étagère divided into thirds; the statue is placed almost perfectly on a one-third vertical line.

(Image credit: Nasozi Kakembo)

4. Balance Big and Small Elements

There's more than one way to achieve balance. One I don't always see as much in home decor is the concept of using a small object to visually balance out a large one. The key is keeping a lot of white space around the smaller object. You can see how dramatically the effect can be used in this shot of two prints from Eric's White and Technicolor Baltimore Loft.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

5. Eyes are Drawn to Leading Lines

Anything can be a leading line, including a pipe, a fence or a lamp cord. People's eyes naturally want to follow lines like these, so make sure there's a pay off for them. For example, the hanging cord in Danny & Joni's Brooklyn Loft guides your eye down to the mirror below. If that mirror weren't there, you might rest your eyes on the wall outlet where the cord is plugged in instead. Clearly the mirror—or a piece of artwork or furniture—is the better choice to end a leading line.

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