rule of thirds
The Rule Of Thirds in Photography
What, Why, and When to Break It
So what is the rule of thirds exactly? When should we use it effectively, and when can we throw out the rulebook and ignore it entirely?
Let’s find out. In this article, we will cover:-
- What is the rule of thirds?
- How can it help improve our photography?
- Why is it important?
- When to use the rule of thirds effectively
- How to make existing images better by cropping in editing
- When to break the rules!
The Rule Of Thirds: What is it exactly?
You can add these guidelines on most camera displays, and we suggest turning them on if your camera allows it. You can also use guidelines on your phone’s camera as well. This is a good tip so you can get used to seeing the grid regularly and you can practice composition even when you’re taking a quick photo on your phone.
So we have a grid with some lines on it. What now?
You can use the rule of thirds grid in many ways. A good place to start is by lining up the subject of the image on one of these lines. Whether it is science, art, or just familiarity, you will notice straight away that the image becomes much more pleasing.
The four markers in the centre of the image, where the lines cross, are known as power points. If you line up interesting parts of your image with these points, you should get pleasing results.
Using this simple trick can level-up a beginner photographer almost straight away.
One of the key beginner mistakes is that they stick the subject directly in the middle of the frame. It makes sense in a way, doesn’t it? You’re taking a photo of THIS subject, so you want to put it front and centre, right? Well… sometimes… but generally, using the rule of thirds technique will work better.
Let’s look at some more examples…
You can see in this example that the subject (the stone) is right on one of the lines — right on a power point in the grid — and the horizon is also along the top third line. In each third of this image we have:-
- Water at the bottom
- Land in the middle
- Sky at the top
Remember: You can compose using multiple lines in one single image. This technique works for almost all types of photography, and is especially effective for both for portrait and landscape shots. It works hand-in-hand with other techniques too, like leading lines, and negative space.
When to break the Rule of Thirds
The great thing about the rule of thirds technique is, generally speaking, it works brilliantly for any style of photography. Landscape? Portraiture? Astrophotography? All good. It’s ideal for product photography, weddings, for EVERYTHING! It’s should be your go-to composition to try out first and foremost in any photography situation before experimenting with other things. and… you absolutely should experiment with other composition ideas too!
The great thing about photography is the rules are just a guide. Once you understand them it’s totally fine to experiment and break them. Here’s an example below that breaks the rule of thirds entirely. And it’s much better for it!
- Symmetry is a great composition style which doesn’t lend its self too well to the rule of thirds.
- Shooting macro in a 1:1 ratio can also make the rule of thirds quite challenging.
- Reflections in water or mirrors etc. don’t often work.
- Abstract photography doesn’t always adhere.
- Sometimes, unique compositions that don’t make sense on paper just work in practice!
Using the Rule of Thirds in Editing
Rule of Thirds Tips
Horizons: pay special attention to them
Horizons have the power to make or break an image, and the rule of thirds grid can come in super handy. First of all, you can use your grid to keep your horizons straight. They probably should be straight at all times unless you’ve gone for something intentionally jaunty. And secondly, because a horizon is such a divisive line through your image, if you don’t follow the rule of thirds, you can risk splitting your image in two. This generally makes a composition less pleasing.
The reflection image earlier in this article is a good example of how you can do it effectively, but it is usually the exception to the rule.
It’s a good idea to ask yourself a quick question before shooting: do I want the land or the sky to be more of a focus in this image? And then you can position your horizon either on the bottom or top line depending on what you prefer. This will work in both portrait and landscape compositions.
Digital images are free, after all, so long as we have enough space on our memory cards. There is no harm in experimenting to see what might work best.
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