Here are more than a dozen terms that you should become acquainted with to learn photographic design and composition:
- Compositional elements: lines, dimension, value (brightness), color, mass/weight, depth, the illusion of reality, time and motion
- Balance: A balanced composition has masses that are distributed across the image.
- Figure/ground (positive/negative space)
- Armature: a framework on which a photograph can be composed. (examples: golden mean, rule of thirds, diagonal method)
- Golden mean
- Rule of thirds
- Diagonal method
- Diagonal placement
- Visual pathway
So what are the dominant design practices? Is the golden mean better than the rule of thirds? Does a simple framework or complex framework engender the better composition? There is no decisively superior design process. Although the golden mean may be more precise and less symmetrical than the rule of thirds, this does not automatically result in better compositions. The fact that forty-five degree diagonals are easy to apply to most designs does not suggest that there is nothing to learn from armatures that are more complex.
Each design method has something to offer and strict adherence to any of them is not required to learn the fundamentals. Based on those assumptions, there is nothing magical about any given one, and you can combine and deviate quite a bit and still be successful.