The Rule of Thirds is a compositional technique used to help create a balanced image. Through the use of this balance, it helps create interesting and engaging photographs.
Does this mean if you don’t know the rule, intentionally (or unintentionally) break the rule, or just don’t give a damn, that your photographs will be uninteresting or not engaging? No, not at all. All rules are meant to be broken, especially within photography when you’re experimenting. But you should know the rules so that you know what you are breaking.
Breaking It Into Thirds
So what is this rule? It is simple, really.When you look at your image, imagine dividing it into equal thirds with two horizontal lines and again with two vertical lines. The result is your image now is broken into nine equal parts with four lines cutting through the image.
It is a good idea to keep this rule in your mind when you’re looking through the viewfinder as you want to get as much of this done in camera. This cuts down the amount of postproduction required later if you want to apply this compositional rule.
Have you ever turned on the “Grid” on your mobile phone camera? It shows you this rule in effect. Similarly, you should be able to turn it on in your camera for “Live View” and also in your image playback where you ‘chimp’ on the back of your camera.
There is a science behind the Rule of Thirds. Do I know all the details behind the science? Honestly, no.
But the ‘rule’ has been created because the human eye tends to naturally go to the intersecting points when an image is broken into thirds rather than the exact centre of an image. It therefore lends to a more engaging, less jarring image. It allows your image to be consumed by the viewer more naturally and the key points you want the viewer to see stand out.
Putting It Into Practice: Breaking It Down
Now you have nine imaginary boxes on your image. What now?
Well, despite what you might first thing, putting something of interest within each of those boxes is NOT the intention.
Rather, concentrate on those four lines used to create those boxes. Those four lines are great guidelines for where to position important elements within your photo.
If you’re shooting a landscape, for example, consider having the horizon on either the bottom line or the top dividing line. Depending on the focus of the image (are you showcasing a beautiful set of sand dunes or a stormy sky?), it helps highlight to the viewer of your image what is important and where to look.
Similarly, with portraiture, where you position your subject is important. In a headshot, the eyes falling on the top dividing line leads to a more engaging image. If you a photographing your subject and capturing the environment in the process, consider placing your subject off to one side, which will lead the viewer through your image in a natural manner.
Some photographers create their images subconsciously with the Rule of Thirds, while some need to take more time to consider it. You can, of course, always experiment further with your images in postproduction.
But always keep in mind what the important focus points in your image are and where you are placing them. As humans, we ‘read’ images in a particular manner. Use this to your advantage to help focus the viewers on what is important in your image.
Once you have learned this technique, you’ll find yourself creating even more interesting images. Then you can start breaking the rule!