rule of thirds

Using Rule of Thirds in Photography

The rule of thirds is one of the most important composition techniques in photography. Most digital cameras now will allow you to visually bring up grid lines when framing your shot but an alternative process is to imagine a horizontal or vertical noughts and crosses display.

Your main aim is to place the critical parts of your photo along the lines or at the points where they intersect.

The intersecting areas are where our eyes naturally go towards. It makes sense then, that your main subject areas should be in these areas as best as possible.

rule of thirds

Bring up Grid Lines

Most modern digital cameras will have the ability to display a grid on your LCD screen or even through your viewfinder. This grid will literally help you to apply the laws of rule of thirds.

Imagine that rectangle split into a grid of nine equal rectangles by four intersecting lines. Two of the lines cut your frame into thirds vertically, the other two horizontally. The grid below shows how it looks and is practically applied. For taking portraits, you would simply flip the grid around and stand it on its side.

rule of thirds
You can see the main subject is off centre and along the right vertical line. It also has two of the intersecting areas in focus. The image is not perfect though. With a little more creativity the wooden deck could also fall along that bottom horizon and the tree line could be pushed a bit closer to the top horizon.

Negative Space

The rule of thirds allows you to creatively use the negative space. Negative space is the areas around the image where not much is going on. Through the clever use of rule of thirds you can make a seemingly empty shot, pop to life.

Top Tip: Most of the time the off-center composition is more eye-catching than the one where the object is placed right in the middle of the frame.

tree photography

Crop Existing Images

If you have shot something that you do not think to be very good you should try cropping it with the rule of thirds in mind. Most editing tools will again, apply the grid lines when cropping. You never know, you may find an old image that you can bring back to life with your new knowledge in place.

rule of thirds

Train Your Eyes

Any good photographer knows that half of the battle is seeing an image before it has been cerated. Whenever you like a photo, you can easily check if the rule of thirds is being applied for that particular image. You will be surprised how often this pattern returns in your favourite shots.

Break the Rule of Thirds

Rules are made to be broken, especially in photography. It is only a matter of opinion and you should be shooting what you enjoy! There is no right or wrong but you will find that applying rule of thirds to some images really does make them visually more appealing.

The key is knowing exactly when to break the rule of thirds, and how to use that to significant effect. Perhaps you decide to using leading lines to your advantage instead. Perhaps you want to produce something that is a bit more unique. It is an important rule to note so that you can choose to break it if need be.

sunset photography
The most common ‘breaking’ of the rule is to centre an image subject.

To summarise

A quick go to guide:

  • Horizons should sit on one of the two horizontal lines
  • Trees or sides of buildings should sit on the vertical lines
  • Main subject areas should be concentrated towards the intersecting areas.
  • In portrait shooting the eyes are often the most important areas. Make sure they are on those lines or intersecting areas.

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