You can’t create a good photograph without good composition. It’s one of the vital building blocks of the art. And over the years, photographers have found various rules that enable them to effectively compose shots.
One of the most famous is the rule of thirds. It’s a time-tested method for composing shots. But what is it — and how can you start using it today to improve your photography?
What is the rule of thirds?
At the heart of the rule of thirds is the idea that an image should be organized along certain equidistant points. For the rule of thirds, your image should be divided into nine equal sections — created by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines. You should then align the points of interest in your shots — the most interesting elements that you want to focus on — with this grid so that they are on or near points where these lines intersect.
Most professionally shot photographs observe the rule of thirds. It’s important to remember that this is a guideline for clearly composing shots, not a be-all, end-all that can never be played with or subverted. It is especially useful for beginners who are trying to improve the composition of their shots.
How do you apply it to your practice?
So how do you actually apply the rule of thirds to a photo? It’s ultimately a pretty simple step-by-step process.
First, imagine the scene is divided into nine equal sectors — a three-by-three array of equally sized rectangles. Then decide which elements are most important to your photo. For instance, maybe there’s a particularly beautiful tree that you’re hoping to feature in your photo. Aim to position this tree on or near the lines and intersections on this three-by-three grid.
Do your best — the important elements of your photo don’t have to line up perfectly.
As you try to align these elements, you’ll probably need to move around with your camera to get the composition just right. To make this easier, many cameras have a setting that adds the rule of thirds grid into your line of sight as you take a photo. This can help you move to the right spot and adjust your composition.
How can it improve your photography?
The rule of thirds is a composition technique that can apply in any scenario. Are you a fairly beginner photographer trying to create a well-composed shot on the fly? Then it’s time for you to lean on the rule of thirds.
This rule a versatile tool to have in your toolbox and one that ensures you’re always thoughtful about composition. While beginners often point their camera head toward a subject, the rule of thirds forces them to consider their choices and optimize their approach.
Practice makes perfect with the rule of thirds. As you take more photos, you’ll continue to strengthen the part of your mind that’s focused on composition. And as you take photos and edit them, start to consider how different positioning alters the final product. Be critical about your approach to composition — in this way, you’ll self-edit and begin to produce more carefully composed shots.
As we mentioned earlier, the rule of thirds is a guideline. Even though the word “rule” is in the title, you aren’t going to have your camera taken away forever if you fail to perfectly place the points of interest in your photo along these lines.
Instead, see the rule of thirds as a helpful tip to fall back on when you’re wondering how to compose a shot. After all, photographers have been relying on it for years — and it’s helped produce some truly memorable photography.