The Rule Of Thirds

Rule Of Thirds gif

How do you get your photographs to jump out and grab the viewers attention? One very important way is by arranging the object and tones or colors in your photo so that they make a pleasing and balanced compostion.

The best way of doing this is by following the Rule Of Thirds.

The Rule Of Thirds: Visualize two vertical lines dividing your viewfinder into thirds. Now visualize the same thing with two horizontal lines. Your viewfinder would now look like a tic-tac-toe grid (or naughts and crosses if you're British).

If you have trouble visualizing this, get a magazine and draw the lines on one of the pictures that you like. Then look for the different applications of the Rule Of Thirds.

 

For the simplest practice of the Rule Of Thirds, just position your subject at one of the intersections of the lines, or partway between one of the intersections and the center. This will usually give a more pleasing compostion than having the subject exactly in the center of the photo.

Here is a photo that illustrates this application of the Rule Of Thirds:

http://www.kodak.com/global/en/consumer/pictureTaking/top10/10TipsOffCenter.shtml

Note how the ballon is located right at one of the intersections of the lines drawn for the Rule Of Thirds .

Here is another one. This one has flower groupings arranged by the Rule Of Thirds:

http://www.gorp.com/gorp/art/photogal/wildflowers/FLOW64.HTM

The flower in the lower right is located at one of the intersections, and the two flowers at the top left are located on opposite sides of the leftmost vertical Rule Of Thirds line.

 

It is especially important that the skyline be on or near one of these lines in landscape photos! Pictures with the skyline centered seldom look good.

Here is a photo that uses the Rule Of Thirds for skyline placement:

http://www.gorp.com/gorp/art/photogal/corbis/parks/DM003206.htm

Here is one that has a horizontal line in the middle of the photo, but manages to have good composition by putting the skyline on a Rule Of Thirds line:

http://www.everythingalaska.com/wldrns/dd19.gif

Here is another Rule Of Thirds example:

http://www.angelfire.com/fl/planetwildlife/images/chip.jpg

 

For a little more complicated implementation of the rule, position major elements of your subject - such as the edge of your subjects body, the top of their forehead, or the edge of their hair (at the side of their face) - on one of the imaginary lines.

I'm sure you have all seen portraits where the person's face is off to the side and they are looking toward the center of the picture. Didn't you think it was a great photo?

Here is an example:

http://www.agfaphoto.com/gallery/eurofaces/peppenster.html

Note that the forehead/hair line are on the upper horizontal Rule Of Thirds line. Also note that the right eye and the line where the forearm and fur meet are on the left vertical Rule Of Thirds line.

It is especially effective to put a light/dark division, on one of the vertical lines and then to also put a division such as the sholders of a person on a horizontal line. Look for similar uses of the Rule Of Thirds in magazines and books.

 

Trying to position important parts of your subject on two or more lines or intersections, especially ones on different areas such as upper left and lower center can help you create outstanding photos.

And an even more subtle way to use the Rule Of Thirds is to position two or more areas with no hard lines, such as a transition line between light and dark tones, on or near one of the lines near, but not on, one of the intersections, but leading the eye toward the intersection and then onward to the center of the photo.

Look for this composition in magazines or books.

Here is an example:

http://www.sphoto.com/images/img0025a.jpg

The skyline is along the upper horizontal Rule Of Thirds line. However, the clouds make a diagonal line that points toward the upper right intersection point. This draws the viewers attention to this point, and ensures that their attention does not drift away.

Here is an another example:

http://members.tripod.com/~wf_portfolio/fotousa2.htm

Note that the top of the water is along the lower horizontal Rule Of Thirds line.

Note that the left edge of the white water is at the leftmost vertical line and the right edge of the white water portion of the little waterfall is at the rightmost vertical line.

Also note that the flowing water is along the rightmost vertical line, and there are trees that also line up with this line.

And one final example:

http://members.tripod.com/~wf_portfolio/fotousa6.htm

Note that the top of the buildings in the upper part of the photo are along the upper horizontal Rule Of Thirds line. Also note that the tops of the buildings in the lower part of the picture are at or near the lower horizontal Rule Of Thirds line.

And finally, note that the diagonal beam runs from the upper left intersection of the Rule Of Thirds lines to the lower right. This draws the viewers eye to the two intersections. Having the sun flare at the lower right intersection point keeps the viewers attention returning to that point in the photo.

This photo is an excellent example of abstact composition!!

Look for other examples of The Rule Of Thirds, and practice these concepts in your own photography.

Copyright 1998, 1999 David E. Price

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