What Is The Rule Of Thirds in Photography?

Photography's Rule of Thirds being applied at Nashville Pride 2015.

Photography’s Rule of Thirds being applied at Nashville Pride 2015.

COMPOSING BETTER PICTURES | Darrin Henry

The Rule of Thirds is a simple and effective composition technique for capturing better photographs. It’s one of the first things you’ll learn on any photography course and it soon becomes second nature.

The Rule of Thirds: Use Your Imagination

Imagine two vertical and two horizontal lines, equally spaced, in your camera’s viewfinder or on the display screen. The lines divide the view into 3 horizontal segments and three vertical segments. Now visualise hotspots at the four points where the lines intersect. See diagram below.

The basic Rule of Thirds grid with 'hotspots' which photographers use to compose better pictures.

The basic Rule of Thirds grid with ‘hotspots’ which photographers use to compose better pictures.

When framing your picture identify the main point of interest then position this on one (or more) of the four hotspots. This usually, naturally, create a more pleasing composition, better than placing your main point of interest dead centre.

Photography's Rule of Thirds - helps enormously with composing this picture of a cyclist in Oxford, UK.

Photography’s Rule of Thirds – helps enormously with composing this picture of a cyclist in Oxford, UK. In this shot it’s the bottom left intersection that’s captured the main point of interest.

Photography's Rule of Thirds creates a natural 'breathing space' in front of this worshipper at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, Thailand.

Photography’s Rule of Thirds creates a natural ‘breathing space’ in front of this worshipper at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, Thailand. The right vertical and both right side hotspots are used for the main subject.

On a photoshoot with Emma-Jay on St Helena, the Rule of Thirds is all over this shot!

On a photoshoot with Emma-Jay on St Helena, the Rule of Thirds is all over this shot! The key point though is the model’s eyes, which is framed with the top left hotspot. But the left vertical frames her torso nicely while the bottom horizontal line is nicely aligned with her legs.

 

The Rule Of Thirds: Crossing The Line

The vertical and horizontal lines themselves are also useful guidelines. With landscapes place the horizon on either of the two horizontal lines rather than across the middle. Which line you choose depends on the picture content. If in doubt try both, that’s the beauty of digital photography.

In Phnom Penh, using Photography's Rule of Thirds to give more space to the amazing evening sky.

In Phnom Penh, using Photography’s Rule of Thirds to give more space to the amazing evening sky.

The vertical lines are helpful when composing buildings or cityscapes. Again, select the key feature and arrange over or near the vertical lines. Make sure the camera is straight/level, then shoot.

The Rule of Thirds works the same with the camera rotated in portrait mode. The picture of the 'Saint Napoleon' we are using the left vertical, while in the picture of Tower Bridge in London, the subject is aligned across the top horizonal line.

The Rule of Thirds works the same with the camera rotated in portrait mode. The picture of the ‘Saint Napoleon‘ we are using the left vertical, while in the picture of Tower Bridge in London, the subject is aligned across the top horizonal line.

Banging the bell stones while hiking on St Helena.

Banging the bell stones while hiking on St Helena. The right vertical and top right hand hotspot maps the layout in this picture.

In a nutshell, that’s the Rule of Thirds explained. Like I said, it’s simple. Combining the hotspots and dividing lines will become automatic after a while.

The whole point is to make your photographs more interesting to look at afterwards. This may just for your own use or for a wider audience. Either way, create a visual journey for the eyes.

Our Thai model, Thanya, getting the Rule of Thirds treatment during the Beauty of Bangkok photoshoot.

Our Thai model, Thanya, getting the Rule of Thirds treatment during the Beauty of Bangkok photoshoot.

Underground in Vietnam's Halong Bay caves, using the Rule of Thirds to convey the huge space above.

Underground in Vietnam’s Halong Bay caves, using the Rule of Thirds to convey the huge space above.

Not much scope for reframing when relying on the flash, but this composition worked out quite well of a mounted policeman in New Orleans.

Not much scope for reframing when relying on the flash, but this composition worked out quite well of a mounted policeman in New Orleans during a night out.

Think of how you view new pictures yourself; your eye is drawn to the key subject first and then it wanders through the rest of the photograph exploring the smaller details. So use the rule of thirds to help create an interesting picture for someone else to explore.

The Rule Of Thirds: Robots Are OK

Finally – sometimes it’s ok to break the rules!

One of my favourite TV shows at the moment is Mr Robot. The producers and camera operators often defy all framing conventions, almost as if a child is operating the camera, but it’s kind of quirky and it works. So remember, it’s ok to break or bend the rules at times, but if you do it’s always good to know what the rules are in the first place!

Good luck. Hopefully the Rule Of Thirds makes more sense to you than ten minutes ago!

It doesn't take long for the Rule of Thirds to become second nature. Taking this picture of Sharon in Talladega Forest, Alabama, I allowed the 'breathing space' to her left without even thinking about it.

It doesn’t take long for the Rule of Thirds to become second nature. Taking this picture of Sharon in Talladega Forest, Alabama, I allowed the ‘breathing space’ to her left without even thinking about it.

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