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The Rule of Thirds – Mastering Photography and Composition.
The ‘Rule of Thirds’ is one of the most important concepts to understand in the field of photography and can be utilized in landscapes, portraits and still life.
What is the Rule of Thirds in Photography?
Fundamentally, the rule of thirds is a technique you can use to help you compose powerful images by imagining that the picture is divided up by 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines. This leaves the image ‘divided’ up into 9 sections. Using these imaginary sections you can place points of interest and other elements of your photo in positions that will help them have the greatest impact.
The technique makes use of various psychological universals that cause elements in an image to have more of an impact depending on where they are placed. It’s a technique that has been used by artists for thousands of years, including in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and even by the painters of the Renaissance era. It’s a long tried and tested method to get the most out of your subject matter and create well balanced, visually appealing finished products.
However, like anything in the artistic fields, there are no hard and fast or completely fixed rules; so never allow the rule of thirds to stop you taking a photo on the spur of the moment because it ‘feels’ right. The rule of thirds is still a good thing to keep in mind while you compose your photography and works extremely well for landscapes, portraits and much more.
Where to place points of interest within the grid of the rule of thirds?
- Photographing a Subject: When composing your image you should try to place the main subjects of your image at one of the 4 intersections that run around the center of the image. If you are taking a picture of a person then placing their head in one of the top central intersections and their body down the vertical line will draw the viewer’s eye to the figure as well as creating an effective sense of depth.
- Landscape photography: Whether you’re photographing a natural or city landscape, making use of the rule of thirds will really aid you in composing the image. If there are interesting cloud formations or you want the sky to be more prominent in the image then place the skyline on the horizontal line of the bottom third. Conversely, if you want the landscape itself to dominate the image but still create a classically well balanced shot then place the skyline on the top third. Either way this will draw the viewer’s eye to the part of the image that you want it to be focusing on. Also, try to make use of naturally strong horizontal and vertical lines in the scenery. In a cityscape photo you can use the edges of buildings, monuments or lamp posts along an outer vertical third to create a real sense of depth, action or movement in the image.
- Portrait Photography: Using the same principles as in landscape photography, you can place the subject’s eyes on an intersection, or if they are wearing a tie, or a flower in their hair these points of interest can be placed on the intersections. When taking the picture the subject’s face should be framed within well chosen thirds of the image, depending on the overall effect you are looking to achieve.
How to make use of the Rule of Thirds?
While you are composing your photograph, ask yourself a few questions.
- What are the most important parts of this picture?
- Where do I want to place the elements of the photo?
- Why am I placing things where I am?
- What am I trying to achieve with this photo?
- How can I use the rule of thirds to get the results I am looking for?
The Rule of Thirds in Paintings.
Modern photographers have learnt a great deal from the painting masters of the past from where they have always been able to draw inspiration and guidance for their compositions.
Famous artists from the past have long been using the rule of thirds long before photography was invented. Renaissance artists made great use of the technique in many of their compositions and thousands of years ago the ancient Egyptians were masters of composition.
In this image by the legendary American painter Edward Hopper, he has skillfully made use of the rule of the thirds to draw the viewers eye into the bar room on a desolate late night street. Edward Hopper often painted bleak images of mid century America as consumerism started to take root and change society but even as he did so he used intelligent composition to pull the audience’s eye into the center of the action. The roof of the bar slants down across the canvas and meets the vertical at an intersection of lines making perfect use of the rule of thirds.
The Rule of Thirds in your Photography.
There’s a lot that photographers, graphic designers and creatives can learn from studying the rule of thirds and how it is used in the artwork and photography of others. It’s one of the most versatile techniques of composition that can be applied across the board to any type of photography but like all rules in the world of the arts it should only be used as a guideline in your work.
Do you use the rule of thirds when you photograph?