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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

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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.

Majestic photo of a Golden retriever dog standing on the edge of a cliff with a glorious landscape beneath with the rule of thirds composition grid overlayed

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.

A red grid showing the rule of thirds intersections for better 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.

An image of a woman walking through the countryside on an overcast day to show the rule of thirds composition

You can see this better with the rule of thirds photography grid as a reference placed over the image.

An image of a woman through the countryside with the rule of thirds composition grid overlayed

The same goes for landscape shots. This is where we can see the most prominent point-of-interest on the intersection.

A stunning image of boats on turquoise water sailing through a mountainous landscape to show the rule of thirds composition

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.

An image of a beautiful tropical landscape with the rule of thirds composition grid overlayed

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.

Important Elements

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.

A countryside road scene at evening time, showing the landscape to sky ratio is 1/2 - rule of thirds composition tips

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.

A countryside road scene at evening time, with the rule of thirds grid overlayed

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.

A mountainous landscape with a stunning star filled night sky above, with the rule of thirds composition grid overlayed

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.

A portrait of a female model with her head above water. The second place winner of the Lens Culture portrait award 2017 shows no apparent rule of thirds

Coco Amardeil

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.

Post-Processing

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.

A screenshot showing how using the rule of thirds overlay in Lightroom will help you crop your images better

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.

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 rule of thirds tips from our 30 day photography challenge project or watch our tutorial video below.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.

It's my training video that will walk you how to use your camera's functions in just 10 minutes - for free!

I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects:

You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos!

Thanks again for reading our articles!

Your Free Quick-Start

Photography Cheatsheet

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.

Improve Your Composition with The Rule of Thirds

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.

It's my training video that will walk you how to use your camera's functions in just 10 minutes - for free!

I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects:

You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos!

Thanks again for reading our articles!

Josh

Hey I'm Josh, I'm Photographer in Chief here at ExpertPhotography, and I'm in charge of making sure that we provide you with the best content from the most knowledgeable photographers in the world. Enjoy the site :)

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