Rule Of Thirds In Photography – Here’s What You Need To Know

What is the Rule of Thirds?

There are many philosophies concerning compositions, which are often referred to as rules. These “rules” exist because they create images that generally are pleasing to the eye and provide a framework for consistent compositions. However, I think of composition rules as guidelines that should be understood as well as challenged from time to time as part of your creative maturation. It’s only through creative exploration that we grow as artists. However, before we go intentionally breaking the rules, first we must understand them. The most fundamental of composition rules is the rule of thirds.
The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts. As follows.

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As you’re taking an image you would have done this in your mind through your viewfinder or in the LCD display that you use to frame your shot.

With this grid in mind the ‘rule of thirds’ now identifies four important parts of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image.

According to the rule of thirds,

the lines that divide the picture into thirds are the most effective places to position objects in your photo. So, for example, the horizon should be positioned on or near the line a third from the top or a third from the bottom of the picture. Vertical objects like trees should be placed on or near the lines a third from the left or right of the picture.

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Also according to the rule,

the most powerful points in the composition are the areas where the lines intersect. So, if your horizon is a third from the top of the frame, a house or tree on the horizon would be best placed a third from the left or right, at the intersecting point of the horizontal and vertical lines. If you have positioned a tree along one of the vertical lines, a bird sitting in a fork of the tree would be best positioned where it intersects with the horizontal line a third from the top.

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The Rule of Thirds is not Just for Landscapes

Here’s another ‘thirdsy’ sort of picture on the left. 

Placing the main elements of your composition on the thirds, and especially at the intersection of the thirds, is a powerful composition aid for many different subjects and applying the rule will immediately improve the vast majority of your compositions. Whatever you are photographing, ask yourself; “can I use the rule of thirds?” The answer won’t always be yes but you will be surprised at how often it will be.

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Why does the rule of thirds work?

Don’t know, don’t need to know. But it does work. It satisfies our sense of visual proportion, so that photos structured in this way appear balanced in the eye of the viewer. You can prove this for yourself right now, just by looking at a book of your favorite photos. When you apply the framework to each picture, you will probably find that most of them, at least loosely, fit the rule of thirds.

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Many photographers have a natural sense of visual balance. They take their photos according to the rule of thirds without being aware of it. They may simply shoot the picture that ‘looks right’ or ‘feels right’ to them, unconsciously applying the rule as they go. For new photographers who are struggling with composition, this simple guideline will make a world of difference. In time, and with experience, these beginners will develop their own natural ‘feel’ for composition.

Am I suggesting that every photo must be taken using the rule of thirds? Is any photo that falls outside these guidelines a failure? Absolutely not.

Breaking the rule

As with all rules (at least in photography), the rule of thirds doesn’t apply in every situation, and sometimes breaking it can result in a much more eye-catching, interesting photo. Experiment and test out different compositions even if they go against any “rules” you’ve learned.

However, learn to use the rule of thirds effectively before you try to break it – that way you can be sure you’re doing so in order to get a better composition, rather than just for the sake of it.



Thank You for reading.

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