Photographic Memories: Reverse-Engineer Photography Project

Today’s reverse-engineer project emphasizes three principles of photography: the rules of thirds, leading lines, and depth of field.

Easy as Pie: Rule of Thirds

This reverse-engineer design features a food photo by Annie Spratt at Unsplash.


The photo has a vertical, rather than horizontal orientation. The photographer has strategically placed apples, a tart, a dish cloth, and other elements so they follow the rule of thirds, drawing the eye to the tart. The apples are also positioned in a casual line, which draws the eye into the photo and to the tart.

annie spratt draw over

Pie-Making at My House


tart draw over

My photo is a sparer rendition on the theme of pies, but it still follows the rule of thirds. The blank space and the highlights on the right contrast with the shadows on the pies.

A Day at the Playground: Leading Lines

Photographic hobbyist, Aaron Burden, shared the photo below at Unsplash.  The playground appears uncharacteristically quiet, yet the potential for play is evident.


In the draw-over below, the subtle line made by the swings is made more obvious. This line draws the eye to the blurred background and back to the swings, beckoning the viewer to come play. The entire piece speaks of the whimsical possibilities found on a playground.

leading lines swings

Drawing a Line in the Sand: My Photo


sandbox leading lines drawover

I took this photo at a playground in San Diego. The late-afternoon lighting was similar to the photo above, as was the line of playful elements, in this case, a row of pails filled with pine cones, rather than a row of swings. The line of pails, as well as the edge of the sandbox, creates a pleasant symmetry and alignment.

A Passage to India: Depth of Field

The scene below, captured by Nitish Kadam at Sanjay Ghandi National Park in Mumbai, India, is almost dreamlike in its detail and beauty. The image is available on Unsplash.


The draw-over below shows the photographer’s careful use of depth of field. He places the tree and the rock face in the foreground, drawing the eye into the photo. The reflections on the water and the trees and grass on the opposite side of the river form the mid-ground; The sky and mountains are the background. The sun shimmering on the water adds beauty while the trees and shrubs frame the photo.

Indian river drawover

A Walk on the St. Vrain River: My Photo

IMG_0363 (1)


The photo above, while admittedly overexposed and a little grainy, duplicates the previous photo in its depth of field, as well as its use of vegetation to frame the photo. The ducks and water in the foreground create a sense of movement; the large tree and shadowed area create the midground, while the sunlit area is the background.

Like writing or design rules, the basic principles of photography give a framework and structure to the art, offering a starting point for beginners and experts alike. Photographers can break the rules effectively and intentionally only after they’ve mastered them.




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