Photography 101: The Rule of Thirds
What to remember before deciding on every composition!
- What is your image about?
- What do you want the viewer’s eye to be drawn to?
- How can my composition decision emphasise what the image is about?
- Are there ‘relationships’ within the scene which are important to capture?
I believe that once you understand compositional rules, you are entitled to break them. However, you must know the rule in order to break it!
The Rule of Thirds is the most basic and widely taught ‘rule’ of composition within photography. The origins of this concept were heavily exercised within renaissance painting. It is a rule which can be applied to every image that you ever take, in any scenario. Studies have shown that your eye is most naturally drawn to the intersecting points on the 'thirds', rather than to the centre of an image. Therefore, this rule allows us to exploit this natural observation!
'Family of Four', 2017.
1/250 F4.0 ISO 200
Here the horizon line is placed on the third, to create a natural balance between street, wall and sky.
Quite simply, place the subject, or point of interest onto a ‘third’. Meaning, a third of the way into your image, from any edge. Using your viewfinder or screen, you can see which focus points are over the ‘third’, and some modern cameras (particularly mirrorless cameras) allow you to permanently have a grid showing the ‘thirds’ when taking images. This is even more effectively used when placing the subject on at a point which intersects two of the 'third' lines.
'Portrait of Robert', 2018.
1/500 F1.6 ISO 100
Here the red cross intersects his eye, which is where I want the viewer's eye to be drawn.
Why use this rule?
- Breaks habits! This is a useful rule as it allows you to move away from always placing the subject in the centre of the image. Always using the centre focus point in your camera will lead to all your image compositions looking the same. You won’t play with other shapes of composition. Central compositions also isolate the subject within the scene, permeating its importance, and emphasising that nothing else is to be looked at (whilst this is sometimes good, it should not be utilised in every scenario).
- It gives room for the other features of your image to play out around your subject. It allows you to create relationships and lines of interest between parts of the image.
- As one of the first and most simple compositional rules, it serves as a means to make you think before you take a picture! How could this be improved, what am I photographing and what will be interesting about my photo?
Some other images which utilise this rule!
The rule of thirds is absolutely worth exploring, particularly for beginners. However, the key to developing a good eye for composition is in understanding what is appropriate for every image you create. For some images the rule of thirds is perfect, however for others you may be compromising other compositions that may be far more interesting and effective. Every technique for composition can be beautiful; make sure you explore, experiment and most of all, have fun!