Understanding “The Rule of Thirds”

One of the first things almost every photographer is taught early on is the “Rule of Thirds”. This is a very simple rule that will transform your snapshots into works of art.berryjam.ru

Basically put, a piece of art, in this case a photo is more interesting when the subject is not centered, but instead off centered 1/3 of the way into the photo.

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Rule of Thirds Grid

This is a typical 4×6 photo divided into a “Tic-Tac-Toe” grid. In this case the vertical and horizontal lines divide the photo into “Thirds”. One set, is a left, middle and right thirds, another set is top, middle and bottom. We will refer to these as the Rule of Third’s Lines. The for points where the lines cross each other, we will refer to the Rule of Third’s Points.

So as a rule, your photo will be more interesting if your subject appears at one of the 4 points or uses the lines to divide the photo.

Now, lets examine this photo. This is clearly a snap-shot. I took it and I admit, composing this wasn’t high on my list. I put my center AF point on the subjects eye’s and fired.

Moving the subject left to the cross point of the top and left lines would have minimized background distractions and waisted space above the subject.

Our subject’s head is dead centered in the frame. There is waisted space on either side of him and over top of his head. A simple move to bring his eyes to the top rule of third line would have done wonders for this photo. It would have been even better had I moved his head to the top-left point with him telling his story into the frame. This wasted space, be it empty space, or a busy background is called “Negative Space”. Negative Space simply put is space that doesn’t contribute to the photo.

Now lets look at another example, this time a Landscape.

A landscape using the Rule of Thirds

This time, I chose to use the Rule of Thirds to divide the frame into three horizontal bands. The snowy foreground, the lake and trees and the sky are balanced across the frame. None of the three main areas dominate the photo keeping negative space to a minimum. The position of the tree’s prevented me from putting them on the Rule of Thirds vertical lines but the photo is still kind of broken into thirds horizontally.

As with any rule, they are more like guidelines than “thou must” hard fast rules. There are times where the Rule of Thirds simply doesn’t work. Some notable exceptions include shooting a sunrise over an ocean. If you put the horizon on the bottom 3rd, the sky better be very interesting or it will begin to degrade the photo. Put the horizon at the top third and the ocean will dominate and pull down the interestingess of the photo. In this case centering the horizon may be a better choice.

In this example:


The subject is centered vertically, but I’ve used the grate to split the frame into 3rds. I did not do a good job balancing the model vertically and as a result there is a little too much space at the top and her feet are a bit cramped along the bottom.

Had I spent a little more time with the composition, I could have placed the Rule of Thirds line at her knees and the top of her dress and made this killer.

Now this can be salvaged by cropping the photo. In this case, instead of it being a 4×6, a 5×7 would let me trim probably enough off the top to fix the photo.


In this case, I’m a touch off, but by putting the eyes on the top rule of thirds line. Even so, her eyes are close to the points. You don’t have to be precise with being exactly on the lines or points, but use it as a guideline to avoid centering your subject.

Most head shot portraits will fit well within the Rule of Thirds. You are probably using it and not knowing it.

Use the “Rule of Thirds” as a starting point to your creative compositions. Other compositions can be even more dramatic and of course there will be times where centering makes the best since.

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