This is one of the most common composition techniques around and for good reason: it works.
Photos that are correctly composed using the rule of thirds create depth and interest, adding an exciting balance between subject(s) and background. Once you start playing around with this rule, it will become second nature and your photos will begin to improve.
What is the Rule of Thirds?
This basic rule is used by photographers, artists and designers to help create better compositions.
The rule basically dictates that photos should be split into 9 equal parts, divided by 2 equally-spaced horizontal lines and 2 equally-spaced vertical lines. Important features within the frame should intersect with these lines at some point.
Before we go any further, I’d like to say that the term ‘rule’ in photography is used very loosely. You should never follow a ‘rule’ if it doesn’t work for your specific photo. In photography, rules are made to be broken but it’s best to know the rule you’re about to break before breaking it.
This is what the rule of thirds looks like:
How to Use it
The rule of thirds is a great way to make your average day to day photos look a little more interesting. Consider the comparison below: moving the subject off-center adds depth to the image that didn’t exist previously.
Knowing about the rule of thirds will help you see potential photos in different ways.
In the photos below, instead of taking a symmetrical photo, which would have been easy and boring, I decided to intersect the horizon with the top third line in the frame. This change in perspective also adds depth to the photo and grabs your attention with an interesting foreground.
When taking a photo of someone and trying to observe the rule of thirds, I find it’s best to place the subject to the side of the frame so that they’re facing into the photo, not out.
There are exceptions where the background might be particularly interesting with a nice bokeh or depth of field but, in general, it’s best to have them looking into the frame. I also tend to line up the eyes with one of the guide lines as this creates a good balance in the photo.
Finally, when you’re framing a photo, look for natural lines in the frame and try to line these up with thirds.
The photo below has the subject looking inwards, creating depth and interest, as well as vertical lines that line up with one third of the photo. This helps to maintain a good balance and ensures the space to the right of the subject is not wasted.
A similar grid for composition is the Phi Grid; a simple tool to incorporate the Golden Ratio in your photography.
Your Free Quick-Start Photography Cheatsheet
In order to simplify the process of learning photography, I’ve created a free download called The Quick Start Photography Cheatsheet and you can download it below.
Here’s what you’ll get:
A downloadable cheatsheet to carry with you as you shoot
Detailed summaries of each section of this post
External links to relevant articles and blog posts
At-A-Glace Images that will explain how each exposure works
And much, much more…
If you want even more tips on how to use the rule of thirds to improve your composition, check out our tutorial video below.
Your Free Quick-Start
This downloadable cheatsheet gives you detailed summaries of every section of this post, as well as links to relevant articles, and at-a-glace images that will explain how exposure works.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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