The “Rule of Thirds” is one of the first things beginner photographers learn about in photography classes and rightly so, it’s a great technique to consider early in the process of learning photography.
What is the Rule of Thirds?
The basic idea of the rule of thirds is to frame down into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, so that it has 9 equal-sized rectangles, like below.
What should I do with the rule of thirds lines?
You then want to aim to put the subject of your photo (a flower, person or thing) or points of interest along one of these lines.
For example, in this walking down the aisle photography, I’ve placed the bride and groom on the right-hand third. This off-centre composition helps to balance the image and draw the viewers eye to the subject.
How should I use the rule of thirds lines in my composition?
Alternatively, you can use these lines as a place to separate areas of your photo. For example, with landscape photography, you could have the horizon along the bottom line, such as in the photography of the castle below. This is something I always consider when composing my photographs, especially with landscape photography.
It’s also worth noting you can make use of two (or more) of these lines, as I did in the castle photography below, with the castle lined up on the left line as well as having the horizon along the bottom line.
What about the intersects of the rule of thirds?
Putting the subject or point of interest on one of the points where the lines meet, can be even better. Studies have shown that a viewers eyes are naturally drawn to the points where these lines intersect (the red crosses below).
So make the most of it! Place the things you want viewers to look at on those crosses.
How do you take a photo with the Rule of Thirds?
With all of this in mind, when you’re taking photos imagine having this grid laid across your images. Some cameras will have an option to have a grid overlay which will help with composition – check your manual to see if you have that option.
When to break the Rule of Thirds?
The best thing about learning the rules of photography is learning when to break them!
The trouble with the rule of thirds is that, unlike your subject or scene, it doesn’t change. There’s no flexibility. If you were to always follow this rule, you’d find you had to compromise on what you include in your scene, this could mean excluding certain elements just to follow the rule.
In reality, the rule of thirds is more about encouraging beginner photographers to use off-center composition. It doesn’t always have to be exactly along those lines. It could be set right to one side, displaying the emptiness or loneliness of a subject.
Alternatively, there may not be a clear subject, you may be aiming for a more abstract image like the water reflection photo.
Another technique that doesn’t necessarily follow the rule of thirds, and I’ll write a blog about that in time, is frame within a frame. This is a technique of using a natural, or man-made frame within the photograph (like in the snowy scene and photo of me) and often a central composition can work well with this approach.