Three bikes cycling along a path at a beach near LAX airport California.

The rule of odds in travel photography

In travel photography, capturing captivating images that transport viewers to distant destinations is a cherished goal. Understanding the principles that make an image visually appealing is key, and one such principle is the Rule of Odds. This compositional guideline suggests that an odd number of subjects within a frame creates a more balanced and visually appealing composition. In this article, we explore the Rule of Odds in photography, its psychological effects, and practical tips for applying it effectively in your travel photoshoots. Discover how this rule can enhance your travel images, add an extra layer of intrigue to your visual storytelling and improve your composition skills. 

Three Gentoo penguins walking up a hill in Antarctica.

Understanding the rule of odds

The Rule of Odds is one of the photography composition rules that can be applied in different ways to various types of photography. The principle emphasizes the visual impact of having an odd number of elements in an image and is often used in food photography, still life photography, wildlife photography etc. So today we are here to convince you that the rule of odds works equally well in travel photography. By embracing this principle, photographers can create more visually appealing compositions that capture the viewer’s attention and evoke a sense of balance and harmony. 

Vilnius glass half domes at Christmas.

What is the rule of odds in photography?

The Rule of Odds is a compositional guideline in photography that suggests using an odd number of objects in a frame to create visually appealing compositions. Instead of opting for an even number of subjects or elements, this rule encourages photographers to include three, five, or any other odd number of elements to add interest and balance to an image.

By employing the Rule of Odds, photographers introduce an element of asymmetry and break away from the predictability of even-numbered compositions. This deliberate imbalance creates a dynamic visual experience, drawing the viewer’s attention and making the image more engaging.

In practice, the Rule of Odds can be applied to various elements in photography, such as people, objects, or elements in nature. In my opinion, this is one of the easiest techniques to employ if you are a beginner, instantly allowing you to take better photos. Why? By incorporating an odd number of subjects (like an odd number of flowers, an odd number of groups of trees in the field or simply a third person in the frame), photographers can create a sense of rhythm and flow within the frame, leading the human eye and creating a visually harmonious composition. 

Penguins leaping out from the water taken from the ship.

Psychological and aesthetic impact on the viewer

As with any rules of composition, the Rule of Odds not only holds aesthetic significance but also triggers a psychological response in the human brain, enhancing the impact and appeal of an image. When confronted with an odd number of elements, our brains are compelled to seek patterns and balance. This natural tendency to find harmony in what we perceive draws the viewer into the composition, sparking curiosity and engagement.

By breaking away from the predictable symmetry of even-numbered compositions, the Rule of Odds introduces a subtle tension and visual interest. This tension arises from the asymmetry created by the odd number of elements, which adds an element of surprise and dynamism to the image. As a result, viewers are more likely to linger on the photograph, exploring the relationships between the subjects and immersing themselves in the narrative being conveyed.

Aesthetically, the Rule of Odds contributes to a more balanced and harmonious composition. The odd number of elements creates a natural visual flow, guiding the viewer’s eye through the frame. It avoids a static or overly structured arrangement, infusing a sense of organic movement and energy. The resulting composition feels more visually satisfying, capturing attention and leaving a lasting impression on the viewer.

Three peaks of a mountain at the Yalour Islands, Antarctica.

Applying the rule of odds in travel photography

Understanding and applying the Rule of Odds in travel photography is vital for creating captivating and visually compelling images that transport viewers to the essence of a place. By harnessing the power of odd numbers, photographers can enhance the storytelling potential of their travel photographs, evoke a sense of balance and harmony, and engage viewers with visually striking compositions.

Importance of finding great subjects for the Rule of Odds

The importance of finding a subjects matter for the Rule of Odds in travel photography cannot be overstated. The choice of subjects greatly influences the effectiveness and impact of this compositional technique. It is crucial to select subjects that lend themselves well to odd-numbered arrangements, allowing for a harmonious and visually balanced composition.

When searching for suitable subjects, consider elements that naturally occur in odd quantities or can be arranged in such a way. For example, groups of people, whether locals engaging in daily activities or travellers immersed in the local culture, often present opportunities for creating captivating odd-numbered compositions. Similarly, elements in nature such as trees, rocks, or flowers can be arranged in odd groupings to create visually appealing images.

Pink Zinnia flower.

Exploring various elements that work well with odd numbers 

1. People, portraits and street photography

When it comes to capturing the essence of a place through travel photography, people and portraits play a significant role. Odd numbers of people in a frame can create visually engaging compositions that convey a sense of connection, diversity, or storytelling. Whether it’s a group of three friends walking down a bustling street or five locals engaged in conversation, odd-numbered arrangements tend to feel more dynamic and balanced.

Thatch roof being redone with workers throwing the thatch.

2. Landscapes and nature photography

Landscapes and natural elements provide abundant opportunities to apply the Rule of Odds in travel photography. Consider the placement of elements such as trees, rocks, or flowers in odd-numbered groupings within the frame. For example, three prominent trees in a landscape photograph can create a visually compelling composition, leading the viewer’s eye from one element to another. Additionally, odd numbers of natural elements can enhance the sense of depth and scale in a landscape, making it more immersive and captivating.

Heart-shaped iceberg in Antarctica in December.

3. Architectural and urban scenes

Utilizing odd elements in architectural and urban photography presents a fantastic opportunity to create a more pleasing composition. Incorporating doors, windows, or columns strategically aligned with the Rule of Odds can result in a more visually pleasing outcome. By capturing an odd number of these architectural features, photographers introduce a sense of rhythm and balance to their compositions. The intentional asymmetry created by odd-numbered arrangements adds intrigue and captivates the viewer’s attention, intensifying the overall impact of the scene. From rows of three vibrant houses to clusters of five arched windows in historical structures, odd numbers possess the transformative power to weave captivating visual narratives in architectural and urban photography.

Overall, maximizing the potential of photography rules, such as the Rule of Odds, offers a great way to infuse intrigue and balance into your travel photographs.

Marina Bay Sands at night in Singapore.

Tips for incorporating the Rule of Odds effectively 

  1. Composing with Odd-Numbered Subjects: When applying the Rule of Odds, pay attention to how you compose your subjects within the frame. Place the main subject slightly off-centre, following the rule of thirds or other compositional guidelines. This positioning creates a visually pleasing balance and allows the odd-numbered subjects to interact harmoniously with the surrounding elements. Experiment with different arrangements and groupings to find a good composition that highlights the uniqueness of each subject.
  2. Balancing the Visual Weight in the Frame: While an odd number of items naturally introduce a sense of balance, it’s essential to consider the visual weight of each subject or element within the frame. Visual weight refers to how much attention or emphasis a particular element draws in the composition. Distribute the visual weight evenly among the subjects to maintain equilibrium. For instance, a larger subject might need to be counterbalanced by multiple smaller elements. Adjust the positioning and arrangement of subjects to achieve a balanced and visually pleasing composition.
  3. Experimenting with Different Perspectives and Angles: Exploring different perspectives and angles can significantly enhance the impact of the Rule of Odds in your travel photography. Move around your subjects and scene to find the most effective viewpoint. Shooting from a lower angle can add a sense of grandeur and depth, while shooting from above can provide a unique vantage point. This could involve capturing a row of three houses from an angle that emphasizes their unique features or shooting a series of five pillars from a low perspective to create a dynamic sense of depth. Changing perspectives can also help in emphasizing the odd-numbered arrangement of subjects, allowing them to stand out prominently in the frame.
  4. Experiment with Compositional Rules: The Rule of Odds can be combined with other compositional rules, such as the Rule of Thirds or leading lines, to create even more compelling travel photographs. Explore different combinations and find a balance between the rules to achieve visually engaging and harmonious compositions.
  5. Utilize Framing Techniques: Experiment with framing techniques to enhance the impact of odd-numbered elements. For example, position an interesting doorway or archway to frame a group of three objects, or use leading lines to guide the viewer’s gaze towards a cluster of five elements in the distance.
Gentoo penguins in front of a snow covered mountain in Antarctica.

Overcoming Challenges and Exceptions

Of course, the rule of odds is just one of the useful composition techniques. It is no surprise then, that it may not apply in some cases… 

Where may the rule of odds not apply?

While the Rule of Odds is a useful guideline in many photographic compositions, there may be certain situations where it may not apply or be less effective. Here are a few scenarios where the Rule of Odds may not be as applicable:

  1. Symmetrical Compositions: If your intention is to create a symmetrical image, where perfect balance and mirrored elements are the desired outcome, the Rule of Odds may not be the best approach. In symmetrical compositions, an even number of elements can reinforce the desired sense of symmetry and harmony.
  2. Minimalist or Singular Subject: In cases where the focus of your photograph is a singular subject or a minimalistic composition, the Rule of Odds may not be necessary or appropriate. Sometimes, simplicity and a singular focal point can create a strong visual impact, and introducing additional elements in odd numbers may distract from the intended aesthetic.
  3. Emphasis on Imbalance or Tension: In certain artistic expressions, the deliberate use of an even number of objects can create a sense of imbalance or tension (especially when used against the empty space) that contributes to the visual narrative. By breaking away from the expected odd-numbered arrangement, you can evoke a specific mood or convey a particular message that aligns with your creative vision.
  4. Contextual Constraints: Sometimes, the available subjects or elements within a scene may not lend themselves naturally to odd-numbered compositions. It’s important to adapt your composition to the context and make the best use of the available elements, rather than forcing an odd-numbered arrangement that feels contrived or out of place.
Aurora Expeditions ship at the entrance of the Lemaire Channel.

Remember, while the Rule of Odds is a useful guideline, it is not an absolute rule. As with any compositional technique, the key is to understand when and how to apply it effectively based on the specific context and desired outcome of your photograph. Flexibility and creative judgment are essential in photography, and knowing when to deviate from established guidelines can lead to unique and captivating images.


Incorporating the Rule of Odds in your travel photography can be a powerful tool to enhance the visual impact and storytelling potential of your images. By understanding the principles behind this compositional guideline and exploring various elements that work well with odd numbers, you can create visually captivating compositions that engage and captivate viewers. Remember to consider the psychological and aesthetic effects of the Rule of Odds. Experiment with different perspectives, angles, and subject arrangements to find the most effective composition for each scene. While the Rule of Odds may not always apply in every situation, it serves as a valuable tool in your photographic arsenal, allowing you to add a sense of balance, intrigue, and harmony to your travel photographs. So, take advantage of the Rule of Odds, embark on new photographic adventures, and let your compositions come to life with the power of odd numbers.

Read Next

Want More Travel Photography Tips? 

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *