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Rule of Thirds Improves Photography Composition

Written by Ray Detwiler

What is the rule of thirds in photography and why is it used?

The rule of thirds is a compositional guideline which is seen widely in painting, photography, video production, as well as in the world of graphic design and film. Composition is one of the most important factors in making a successful photograph, next to exposure. Two photographs that are taken on the same day and in the same location, can be vastly different with just an inch or two of camera movement.

While there are many compositional guidelines, the rule of thirds is probably one of the most popular ones and most commonly seen in the world of art. The principle is to visualize the frame of an image or canvas cut into three equal sections horizontally and three equal sections vertically.  Where the vertical lines cross the horizontal lines creates four key points of intersection. It basically looks like the tic-tac-toe grid.

The rule of thirds suggests that by putting the subject of the photograph at one of these four points, it is more visually appealing than if the subject were in the middle of the frame.

Let’s have a look at how a seagull looks when it is centered, compared to having it offset a little and using the rule of thirds. This should help you get a good idea of the concept.

Image 1

This is the kind of stereotypical photograph. People tend to center everything in the frame. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t.

Image 2

In this photo, the seagull is on one of the intersection points just to the left of center with eye on the point of intersection.  Already, this is a more interesting shot and shows a bit more thought about the composition. However, I would say we can do better than this.

Image 3

This brings us to the third image of seeing the seagull placed to the right side of the frame. This is my personal favorite, because it gives space for him to be looking off somewhere, as opposed to having the frame cut short, leaving the image looking cramped, as the image before this. In the second image, there is nowhere for the seagull to look, whereas here, there is room for the bird to gaze.

Here are some more examples of the rule of thirds applied to various types of photography:

The point of interest on all of the previous images is clearly at one of the points of intersection of the thirds lines. The logo on the product, the eye for the portrait, and the hole in the roof of the Pantheon.

The rule of thirds is also commonly used as a compositional guide in landscape photography, where the horizon will be placed at either the line between the top 1/3 and bottom 2/3 or the top 2/3 and bottom 1/3. This is roughly demonstrated in the image above of.

Here is another example:

This image of Venice has the added benefit of something to look at on each of the two intersecting points on the top line.

This next image is an example of a loose interpretation of the rule of thirds. By simply using the dividing lines as compositional guides and not placing the subject exactly at the crossing point, there is something visually interesting going on.  The number 3 in the image is the real focal point of the image, but the reel on the left lines up nicely for a compositional element along the left thirds line.

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These rules are applied to product photography, landscape, portraits and more. Hopefully this gives you a more thorough explanation of what the rule of thirds is in photography and why it is used so widely by artists everywhere. Keep in mind that in the world of art and design, every rule can be broken – so you can allow for space to play around.

We often test to see if the rules need to be applied, or if the images are strong enough for the rules to be broken. No matter what rules we play by, we have fun creating these images.

To improve your photography and increase conversions, this is an excellent tip to follow. If you need help with perfecting your product photography or need commercial or portrait photography, we can help.

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