Rule of Thirds Techniques for New Photographers

Rule of Thirds Practice example

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Every element in a photograph contributes to the story so poor composition can distract from the image’s overall message. If you feel like your photos need improvement, consider implementing common composition techniques that can help create more dynamic and impactful photographs. Compelling images start with good composition, and one of the first composition rules new photographers learn is the Rule of Thirds.

What Is The Rule Of Thirds

Male lion stares directly at the camera - image applies the rule of thirds

Photography composition refers to the arrangement of elements in a photo in relation to each other to create an aesthetically pleasing image that draws the viewer’s eye to the subject. The rule of thirds is a popular composition technique where the focal point offsets the empty space when located on the outer thirds of the image. The concept is that off-centered subjects are more natural for the eye and create harmonious images.

How To Use The Rule Of Thirds In Photography

When composing a picture, imagine 3×3 tic-tac-toe grid lines and align the subject matter along one of the vertical or horizontal lines. Emphasize a specific focal point and draw the viewer’s attention to important elements in the photo by centering them on intersecting lines.

Barred owl with eye and beak positioned on intersecting lines to demonstrate rule of thirds

What draws your attention the most in the above image? The eye and beak are centered at an intersection, so the viewer is naturally drawn to the two most important elements of the photo. We view photos the same way we read – left to right and top to bottom, which makes the image’s most dominating feature the eye.

winter scene picnic table demonstrates rule of thirds

One photo can have multiple objects adhering to the Rule of Thirds and subjects don’t have to be centered on the lines or intersecting points, just positioned close to the line. In the above example, the tree, picnic bench, and transition from grass to tree line were strategically positioned along a line.  

Apply The Rule of Thirds In Landscape photography

Avoid positioning the horizon line in the dead center, but it is up to you how you place the horizon. Whether you choose the bottom or top third comes down to what is more aesthetically pleasing; if the sky is plain and cloudless, you may opt for placing the horizon on the top third of the photo. If the sky is more interesting than the foreground, like during sunset, you might choose to position the horizon on the bottom line.

Rule Of Thirds Composition With Portrait And Wildlife Photography

Leave room for motion by leaving negative space in the motion’s direction; the same is true for subjects looking in a specific direction.

The most common focal point in portraits and wildlife photography is an eye if the subject looks towards the side or between the eyes if both are visible. When photographing people position the subject along the vertical lines and center the focal point on the intersecting lines.

Combine Multiple Composition Rules

The rule of thirds is so popular because it’s the foundation for many other composition techniques. Negative space often applies the rule of thirds to determine where to place the subject to help represent scale or isolation. Arranging the elements of foreground, middle ground, background along the horizontal lines feels more natural and creates depth. In frame within a frame, the elements that create the frame may align with the rule of thirds gridlines.

Rule Of Thirds Example

Can you identify the elements that apply the rule of thirds in this example?

Rule of Thirds Practice example


Just about everything!

  • The tree is in the left third

  • The tree leaves are in the top third

  • The bench and the edge of the ground are along the bottom third line

  • The rock is centered on the right third line

  • The negative space is in the middle

Though composition rules are a great tool for capturing good photos, become comfortable breaking them too. The rule of thirds is only one of many ways to create beautiful images that leave viewers hoping for more.


collage of flowers, animals, and a lake demonstrate rule of thirds
4 nature and wildlife photos demonstrate rule of thirds

Author Bio

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Delaney is a project manager by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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