Photo Basics: Rule of Thirds




   Hello everyone, back with another "Photo Basics" post and in this one I'll be going over a composition "rule," called the rule of thirds.

  These posts are meant for those interested in learning photography. I have other posts on the topic so please take a look.

Photo Basics: ISO
Photo Basics: Shutter Speed
Photo Basics: Aperture
Photo Basics: So Many Buttons

   Composition is important to master. When you have mastered your camera, can pre-visualize your settings, and feel comfortable with all the technical aspects of photography, composition will become the thing that is on your mind every time you think about an image. Once you understand it, your eye starts to see the world as a series of photographs from then on. Once you have gotten to this point, this is where your images start to stand out and creativity is born.

   When you read this post you will see the word "rules," thrown around a lot. Please understand that in any form of art there are no real rules, nor should there be. The "rule" of thirds should really be called the "guideline," of thirds simply because these rules are in place to be followed until the artist sees fit to break them. In other words you do not HAVE to follow these rules to create a good image. However when these rules are broken there should be creative intent behind it.

   That being said, following the rule of thirds will produce the results you are looking for more often than not, and it is very simple and powerful if used.

   "Ok Alex, so stop ranting and tell us what it is."


  The rule of thirds splits a photo, which is usually rectangular (square formats are also used but they are just not as common), into 3 equal sections horizontally and 3 vertically. Take this image for example. I have drawn red lines on it to show where the "thirds" are. Please forgive me if the sections are not equal, I just eye-balled it for demonstration.

   Basically where these dividing lines meet, that is where you want your subject to be. Notice that in this the speakers eyes are basically on the top horizontal and right vertical with the cross section almost completely on his closest eye.

   Our eyes naturally travel around an image in this fashion. We generally do not look at the center of an image first, instead we look at these cross sections. When you place your subject in one of these you are drawing your eye's attention to that subject. In this way, even if the background was cluttered with people or distracting things, your eyes would have an easy job of picking out what they should be looking at in the image.

   This is not limited by orientation of the photo either. It will work whether in a horizontal or vertical orientation. This is also not limited by subject matter. Here you see two of my own photos with people in them simply because that is the subject matter I look for, people. However here is also an example of an image not taken by me that shows where the horizon of a landscape was placed for dramatic effect. Here the horizon is in the bottom third of the photos to show a vast stretching landscape and big blue sky.
Photo NOT by me link below

   There are many other ways to use the rule of thirds, and many ways to break this rule. Try using the rule of thirds in your images and see how they transform from regular snapshots, to works of art worthy of a magazine. Really, its that powerful and the great thing is that it's easy to do. All you need to do is move your camera. Get out there and try it!

Horizon rule of thirds example: thephotographicangle.co.uk