Arguably one of the most important rules in photography, the ‘rule of thirds’ is a compositional rule to help you decide where to place the subject within the frame of your photo. Compositional ‘rules’ help create a sense of balance and add interest to your photos.
The word ‘rule’ in quotes because it’s more of a guideline than an actual rule. What I mean by this is that you don’t always HAVE to follow the rule in order to create great photos. In fact, intentionally breaking the rule will, in some cases, create a dramatic or tense feel which may be better suited to your end goal. Generally speaking though, following photography rules will help create more appealing photos.
The rule of thirds says you should divide your photo into three equal horizontal and vertical sections creating a grid with nine equal sections, four lines and four intersection points.
The four intersection points are considered the optimum locations for placing the main subject within a photo. If the subject of the photo is tall or long, a building or country landscape, place the subject along one of the lines instead.
The general idea behind the rule is that the human eye is naturally drawn to specific areas of a photo, placing points of interest at these locations will to help draw in viewers.
Before taking a photo imagine the grid in your head and line up your image, some cameras have a built in feature that will display the grid in your viewfinder for you, check your manual. If you’ve already taken the photo then try cropping it to meet this rule, most editing software will have a grid you can overlay on your image to help.
Landscape photos are more pleasing to the eye when the horizon is placed along either of the horizontal lines.
If you’re photographing a sunset with the main focus being the beautiful orange and red colors in the sky, place the horizon line along the bottom third of the image to display mostly sky with a little foreground.
To highlight the colorful reflection in the water place the horizon along the top third showing a large portion of the reflection but balancing it out with part of the sky.
A portrait photo can be of a human, animal or even an insect, the ‘rule of thirds’ applies to all just the same. In portrait photography the eyes are the main point of interest, place them on or near the intersection points.
You’ll have to experiment to find out which of the four is best suited for the shot your attempting, placing the eyes on the wrong intersection point can create unwanted tension, more on this in a future post.
Just remember, photography rules are not exactly ‘rules’ and they don’t have to be strictly obeyed. Breaking a rule will sometimes suit a shot better than following it.