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Rule of Thirds explained

Explaining the Rule of Thirds

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The rule of thirds is one of the first rules that beginning photographers learn. It allows you to take photographs that are interesting and well-balanced. It is a composition technique that provides you with an effective strategy for creating images that people will view more naturally. It helps you define the point of interest for your viewers.

What Is the Rule of Thirds?

The rule of thirds is a strategy where you break the frame of the photograph down into thirds by using two horizontal and two vertical lines through the image. This will break your image down into nine equal parts. These lines will show you positions for useful information in your image. When you place points of interest along these lines, it will allow your viewers to interact more naturally with the image, and the image will be well-balanced. Research shows that when people look at photographs, their eyes are drawn to these intersection points rather than to the center of the photo.

How to Use the Rule of Thirds to Take Better Pictures

When you are framing your image, you should start by considering the most important elements. Once you determine what they are, place them along the lines in your grid. These elements are what will draw the viewer’s eyes. For example, if you are photographing an animal in a field, you should place the animal along one of the lines rather than in the center of the photograph. This will allow the animal to be the focus of the photograph rather than scenery that falls along the lines.

Canon dslr with grid lines
Here’s an example of a Canon DSLR with grid lines turned on. They make it much easier to frame interesting compositions.

Most DSLR or mirrorless cameras have a setting that will show the rule of thirds grid when you are shooting your image. Do a Google search for “how to turn on grid lines [your-camera-model]” and you will find how to turn this feature on. This can make it much easier to position your subject exactly where you want it. If your camera doesn’t have this feature, you can still imagine the lines and place your subject accordingly. You will see that the subject naturally draws your attention when you follow this rule.

Different Ways to Use the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds can apply to any subject that you photograph. The key to creating great photography is being able to create images that are balanced and allow the viewer to interact without having to make a lot of effort. When you simply place the subject in the center of the frame, the viewer has to make an effort to focus on it. However, when you use the lines from the grid, the viewer’s eye is naturally drawn to the subject.

landscape rule of thirds
The horizon is inline with the rule of thirds.
For example, if you are photographing a landscape scene, people often place the horizon in the center. However, this placement actually splits the photograph into two sections. If you place the horizon along one of the lines in the grid, it makes it more natural and creates a stunning image. In addition, find another object such as a tree or a mountain top, and place it along one of the vertical lines. This will bring balance to your photo and create a better image with a natural focal point for your viewers.

You can also create more interest when you are photographing people. If you place the person in the center of the frame, it is not a natural location. By moving the subject to the side, you can line the person’s eyes up with the vertical lines on the grid. When people look at a picture of a person, they are naturally drawn to the eyes. This creates a clear focal point for the viewer and a more natural way to interact with the image.

Can You Apply the Rule of Thirds When You Edit?

When you edit your photos, you can also apply the rule of thirds. You can use the cropping feature to reposition your subject and place it in a different section. Some photo editing software will provide you with crop guide overlays, so you can reposition the subject along the lines of the grid. This is a great way to change the layout of your photograph if you were unable to position your subject when you took your initial shot.

Should You Always Apply the Rule of Thirds?

Although it is a good idea to use the rule of thirds, you can break it from time to time to improve the composition of your photograph. It is important to first learn how to use the rule effectively to create well-balanced and interesting photographs that naturally draw the viewer’s eyes to your subject in a meaningful way. However, once you master this technique, you can learn how to break the rule to improve the composition with particular shots.

rule of thirds when to break
Rules are made to be broken! This photo of an aspiring photographer disregards the rule of thirds to great effect!

For example, you might have a subject in the center of the frame, while other features of the image obey the rule of thirds. Perhaps the landscape is set with the horizon along the lower grid, or you might have objects falling along the vertical lines on the sides. You can improve the photo by allowing the subject to sit in the center with other features of the photo following the rule.

Final Words

When you are shooting images, the rule of thirds gives you a guideline so that you can create interesting photographs that are well-balanced and allow the viewer to interact naturally with the picture. You can divide the image into nine squares by drawing two vertical and two horizontal lines through the frame. The key is to place your focal points along those lines.

When you photograph landscapes, placing the horizon in the center of the image can artificially split the photograph into two sections. This distracts from the beauty of the image and the elements of nature that you are trying to show. If you lower the horizon to the bottom horizontal line, you are able to create a more natural viewpoint. If you are photographing a person, placing the subject to the side allows the viewer to see the background and the subject, which gives the photo a more natural blend. The rule of thirds will help you to create photographs that are well-balanced and allow the viewer to enjoy the photograph in a natural way.

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