Each of us if we are beginners or advanced amateurs, can help our skill as photographers by developing good compositions. Good compositions have elements in common and the most important to me is how the photograph leads the eye. The rule of thirds is a good starting point. Whenever we see people talking about the rule of thirds you see that familiar tic tac toe grid, but few really get into the nitty gritty of what it means. This is how I see the rule of thirds:
First, imagine for a bit, that you are going to lay that tic tac toe grid down flat. The bottom third is the foreground, the middle third is the mid ground and top third is your back ground.
Now think for a moment. How is the eye going to be lead through the photo, if you understand this you understand the rule of thirds. So what I look at is points of interest along the path of thirds. What is in the foreground that is going to lead to the mid ground and then to the back ground? This is the question you have to ask yourself. Once you find your points of interest how are you going to lead the eye on the journey? There are many different ways to do this. One is by converging lines, another is the influence of light, and yet there are many possible ways, by use of colors, or starkness, or any number of ways to lead the eye.
Above, I used converging lines, light, and color to lead the eye down the road. As you can see compounding all these elements, lead to a wonderful photograph. And this one photograph, has found its way as a winner in the Smith Mountain Lake Arts Council contest, and as a two page spread on JPG magazine issue 11. And, I continue to reap rewards from just this one photograph in sales.
So what is the one basic way you can improve your photographs? By understanding composition. Look at photos you like and try to understand why. What is it in the composition that draws your eye?