Definitive Guide to the Rule of Thirds

Definitive Guide to the Rule of Thirds

Written 13 years ago by Mark Evans

Back in the day when cameras weren’t even invented and people like you and me actually painted stuff instead of taking pictures, there sprang a compositional rule that helped many an artist paint in such a way that the scene was more intuitive to look at and generally more aesthetically pleasing. Nowadays, all these years later, this rule still holds true, making it one of the oldest and greatest places to start when composing photographs.


What Is the Rule Of Thirds?

Put plainly, the Rule of Thirds is a way of composing your photo by placing certain landmarks in the scene along imaginary ‘thirds’ lines. These imaginary lines run horizontally and vertically splitting your scene into thirds.

Applying the Rule of Thirds

By placing the main objects in your scene on, near or on intersections of these thirds lines it is thought to produce a more pleasing picture, and in doing so also avoids placing of the subject in the centre which in general doesn’t look great.

Next time you’re composing a photograph, try this technique and align your horizon with one of the thirds lines, and at the same time align the subject with another of the thirds lines, check to see if it has improved the overall look of your picture.

Ignoring the Rule of Thirds

As with all rules, it is made to be broken. Sure it will work for many scenes, but you will find that there are times when it feels appropriate not to use it. For example if there’s an awesome cloud formation, and you want emphasis on the sky, you may want to compose in such a way that there is very little landscape and lots of sky. It will depend largely on what is in the scene and what you want to convey. So get used to using the Rule of Thirds in most situations and you’ll soon come across examples where you don’t want to use it too.

Which Gridline to Use

In general, if you are composing a Landscape photograph, you’ll want to align your horizon with one of the horizontal thirds lines, and lets say that you’ve got a tree as the subject, then you’ll want to align it roughly with one of the vertical thirds lines, or even aligned with the intersection of a horizontal and a vertical thirds line. Although its good to follow rules closely, try to use it more as a guide, getting a great photo isn’t about following a rigid set rules, imagination and creativity should play their part as well!


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Rule of Thirds by Garry

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Alien Landscape by Tony Armstrong

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Chrisdavid42  13 years ago

Sorry to be negative, but more an intro to the rule, than a ‘definitive’ guide.

Mark Evans  13 years ago

Hi, Chris cheers for your input, anything that you could add to this would be great! And of course if anyone else has got any more info to add to this post to make it more ‘definitive’ then please feel free to post here. cheers

steve  13 years ago

The rule of thirds is pretty simple, hard to think of anything more to make it definitive :) There are time where I find variations of the rule seem to work well: using 1/6 or cropping off 1/3.

For example…take a standard aspect ratio landscape photo with the horizon line across the middle and take the same shot with it across the upper or lower third and the one with the horizon in the middle usually doesn’t look quite right…but..if you take the one with it across a third and then crop away a third of the shot (but not the width) so that the horizon is back across the middle it now seems to work.

Similarly, a nice landscape shot often looks nice with a foreground object 1/3 in from one side (a tree for example). But try with a tree 1/3 in each side and it doesn’t work as well…but with a tree 1/6 in from each side seems to work.

Obviously the subject you are shooting effects how well any photo “works” and also a good shot can often be subjective but for me the rule of thirds works well as a starting shot for the types of photos I take (mostly landscape/wide shots…not action of people) and cropping along a third and framing symetrically along 1/6 often gives me pleasing compositions.

Experiment and find what works for you. A collection of “rule of half” or “rule of quarter” shots printed square might make a great collection when viewed together.

Rule of Thirds is more what you’d call a guideline :)

Candy Camarena-Dexter  13 years ago

thank you Mark and Steve for your awesome comments. I am learning photography. I love to take pictures, mostly landscapes. I love old barn, wildlife and the country, nature in all’s it’s beauty. I have a wonderful husband who takes me down different back roads to shoot old barns and we see alot of wildlife. My wildlife shot never turn out to well because i usually have to zoom in for them and it blurs them. I will try both of your suggestions. Thank you again.

JCdeR  13 years ago

Perhaps time to try something new, disregard any rules and just go for photogrpahy, ruels tend to create levels of perfection, and perfection is boring….. try different things, try new things

JCdeR  13 years ago

… nice and informative site by the way

throughHislens | sean  13 years ago

Also can be linked with the golden ration/golden rectangle

other relating posts: http://aphotocontributor.typepad.com/aphotocontributor/2008/10/the-golden-ratio.html

Rami T  12 years ago

i believe that rules should only be guidelines and not to always be followed you must break the comfort zone and try something new and creative because that is what defines you as a photographer

Gcon  12 years ago

Any compositional guide that doesn’t mention the golden ratio is a bit lacking IMHO.

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