You may have heard of the rule of thirds in photography. But do you know exactly what it is and how it can help you? Taking great images isn’t only about your lenses, or your camera.
You will find most modern DSLRs and mirrorless systems have an option to set this on the LCD screen. This will help you photograph with this idea in mind.
What Is the Rule of Thirds in Photography?
The rule of thirds is one of those photography terms that you will never shake. It is one of the photography rules of photography composition, but you can break it.
Although your camera and lenses are important, they are not working alone. You need a great eye, technical skill and practise behind you. Composition is one of the most important and basic tools for your photography.
It helps to make your images interesting and stand out from the crowd.
Composition comes in at this point. This is how you arrange the subject and objects within your frame. You do this from your camera’s perspective. The compositional tool we are covering today is the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds in photography is one of the basic compositional tools at your disposal. And it’s one of the easiest to master.
You can even incorporate other photographic elements. Vertical or horizontal lines are a good option here.
You are breaking your photograph into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. This will leave you with nine equal rectangles, as you can see below.
The nine rectangles appear as the screen splits, due to the intersection points.
You can do this using your mind, or you can change the setting in on your digital camera. The lines will show your scene, but they won’t be part of your image when you photograph a scene.
This grid will provide you with four intersection points. This is where you should put the main subjects or the points of interest in your photo.
When it comes to landscapes, this grid helps you place the horizon on the two-thirds line. Either two-thirds landscape and one-third sky, or two-thirds sky and one-third landscape.
We are talking about the relationship between negative space and interesting elements. It helps give the scene a focal point, in a natural way.
As you see, these intersecting points are very important. It’s an aid in assisting your photographic composition.
Points of Interest
Sometimes, you’ll have an image with one or a few specific points of interest. This type of image is great for using the rule of thirds in your photography composition.
Important compositional elements, such as people’s eyes become strong interest points.
For example, the photo below shows the subject on the lower-left intersection.
You can see this better with the rule of thirds photography grid as a reference placed over the image.
The same goes for landscape shots. This is where we can see the most prominent point-of-interest on the intersection.
The rule of thirds photography grid shows this idea better. The boat falls on the lower-left intersection and the mountain on the upper-right.
The theory goes like this. Points of interest placed in these intersections help your photo become more balanced. It creates more tension, energy and interest.
The viewer’s eyes will fall to these points in an image in a subconscious manner. Your image then becomes more dramatic.
The same idea goes for images where the landscape is the subject. These images don’t have one specific point of reference.
Here you have four lines that help you to arrange these important elements in your frame.
For example, take this image of a landscape/road scene.
This image isn’t very dynamic as you can see the horizon is right in the middle of the frame. You can see this better by using the rule of thirds photography grid.
For images of landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes, it is better to work from the idea of 1/3 and 2/3. Luckily, this grid gives you that from the horizontal and vertical lines.
This image below is more interesting. The landscape takes up 1/3 of the image, where the sky takes the remaining 2/3.
This idea is a great way to show two important elements, where one has more importance over the other. This image would not be as dynamic if the sky was only 1/3.
Breaking the Rule of Thirds in Photography
The rule of thirds is the most basic yet fundamental composition tool to use. It’s the first compositional tool beginner photographers learn. And it’s easy to overuse and abuse.
You can read more about the most common abused rules of composition here.
Of course, you can break the rules. But it is better to learn them first. This way, when you do break them, your choices are more effective and on purpose.
Take this image, for example. It neither follows the points of interest falling on any of the intersections, or the 1/3 and 2/3 breakdown.
This image did win Coco Amerdeil 2nd place in the 2017 Lens Culture portrait Award.
Here, the power and concept of the scene overshadow the composition.
The concept of an image and the content will always take precedence over composition. Composition is there to help you boost your images. And make them more interesting if the content is lacking.
You can also use the rule of thirds when post-processing your image.
By using software such as Lightroom or Photoshop, you may find that you would like to crop your images. This may be due to distracting subjects or backgrounds.
You may even find that a tighter crop places more importance on your photographed scene.
The photography rule of thirds grid can help you achieve a better crop, and thus, a stronger image.
In Lightroom, press ‘R‘ on your keyboard. This will toggle the rule of thirds photography composition grid on your image. Or, clicking on the crop tool will also activate this overlay.
You can use this to crop your image so that subjects fall on these intersections better.
For Photoshop, there is no simple command, but you can make your own by using guides, found in View>New Guide.
If you want even more tips on how to use the rule of thirds to improve your composition, check out our rule of thirds tips from our 30 day photography challenge project or watch our tutorial video below.