What is the Rule of Thirds?
The rule of thirds is designed to provide more pleasing compositions. Imagine an image broken up into thirds both horizontally and vertically so you would have 9 sections. Most cameras have a “grid” setting that will display these 9 sections over your image to help you better compose your shot. With this grid in mind the “rule of thirds’ now identifies 4 important parts of an image that you should consider placing important points of interest on while you are framing your shot.
The idea is that placing points of interest on these intersections or lines will bring an overall balance to your image and will allow the viewer to become more interactive with the story of your photo. Studies have shown that when people view an image, their eyes tend to naturally travel to one of these 4 intersecting points first rather than the center of the shot. The rule of thirds works with this natural way of looking at an image rather than working against it.
Let’s talk about taking portraits first.
When you’re taking portraits, you could place the head of your subject on one of these intersections. Let’s say you take a photo of someone looking to the side like the one below.
If you place their head on the upper intersecting line opposite of the side they are looking too, then it lends to the understanding that “hey, they are looking at something interesting in that direction”.
This will help your image become more interactive for the viewer and they will be able to see the full story. Otherwise, if the image is like the previous one and just captures the subject in the middle, then the mind has to work harder to create the rest of the story. So always remember to give more space in the direction someone is looking.
Now, let’s bring our focus onto landscape photos. Here is a photo taken at sunset without using the rule of thirds.
This composition is unpleasing and uses the rule of thirds incorrectly. Let's take the same photo, only this time we use the rule of thirds in the correct way.
In this photo you can see that we placed the horizon on the bottom horizontal line. This allows the viewer to see the full spectrum of the landscape and the beautiful sky as well.
Final ThoughtsOn a closing note, we would like to highlight again that the rule of thirds doesn’t always come natural to every photographer, but with practice anyone can use it to take better photos. Two questions you can always ask yourself before you take a photo is:
1. What are the points of interest in this shot?
2. Where could I place them to best help tell the story?
Now that you understand how to use the rule of thirds to take better photos, GET OUT THERE AND START SHOOTING.
Always remember, "You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great!"
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