The Rule of Thirds is probably the most popular composition rule and was the first rule I learned when I started learning photography. Composition refers to how the elements in a photo are arranged in relation to each other. Rules are made to be broken, but composition rules help even novice photographers create great photos!
Rule of thirds is so common that digital and cell phone cameras include a setting to display the 3×3 grid while taking a photo to help frame the shot. The concept is that subjects are more visually appealing when you offset the negative space from the focal point.
Imagine a 3×3 grid on each photo where each line draws attention to the subject. Align vertical and horizontal subjects such as a tree or a horizon along the lines.
There is not a rule dictating if the horizon should be located at the top third or bottom third – just never in the middle! Choosing the bottom third or the top third comes down to what is more aesthetically pleasing; if the sky is plain blue and cloudless, you’ll probably opt for placing the horizon on the top third of the photo.
I encourage you to try both with the same scene and see which one you like better.
When you first look at the above photo, are you immediately drawn to the eye? To draw the viewer to a specific focal point, such as an eye, center it on intersecting lines which emphasizes an important part of the photo.
The beak is also located at an intersection, so the viewer is drawn to the two most important elements of the photo. We tend to view photos the same way we read – left to right, top to bottom, which makes the eye the most dominating feature in this photo.
One photo can have multiple objects adhering to the Rule of Thirds and subjects don’t have to be centered on the lines intersecting points, just positioned closed the line.
Leave room for motion by placing the subject with room to move in the direction of the negative space. The same is true for subjects looking in a specific direction.
Can you identify the elements of this photo adhering to the Rule of Thirds?
Just about everything.
- The tree is located in the left third
- The tree leaves are located in the top third
- The bench and the edge of the ground are located along the bottom third line
- The rock is centered on the right third line
- The negative space is located in the middle