The Rule of Thirds

I’ve always been a big fan of breaking the rules. All rules! But I also know, or have learned, that you have to KNOW the rules in order to break them sufficiently. The Rule of Thirds is possibly the most popular rule in composition and it’s one of the first things we are taught in photography school. “The Rule” enables us to produce more interesting photographs.

In theory, the rule of thirds, the photo is divided into thirds with two imaginary lines vertically and two lines horizontally make three columns, three rows and nine sections in the image. Important elements of the photograph are placed on or near the imaginary lines and where the lines intersect.

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 Here's an example of using the rule of thirds. My model is placed off center and her face is aligned along the top intersection.

Here's an example of using the rule of thirds. My model is placed off center and her face is aligned along the top intersection.

It has been proven that when people view an image, their eye usually goes to the intersection points rather than the center of the image. So placing your model off center “generally” helps create a more dynamic image than keeping him or her in the dead center. Also, in fashion photography, since we’re shooting people (models), a viewer usually looks first for the eyes. Keeping the eyes along the intersection lines helps create a more interesting shot as well.

One thing that I am eternally grateful for with my photography background is that I learned how to shoot during the film era. Which meant we had to learn how to “get it” in the camera and not rely on Photoshop to “fix” our images. That’s where the rule of thirds is king! Always compose in camera! While you are taking the image, you have the rule of thirds in your mind as you are composing your shot and seeing it on your viewfinder or LCD display. As you frame your shot, you keep in mind the rule of thirds and in your viewfinder, you find the points of interest and compose around them.

Of course, you can apply this rule outdoors with a simpler background. And here I’ve “broken” the rule a bit by placing my model in the center but her eyes are in the intersection zones.

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You always want to ask yourself, what is the point of interest? And then apply the grid to your shot in your mind while looking through your viewfinder. And of course, there is always Photoshop! There are a few great tools to help you reframe and crop your images so that they follow the rule of thirds. But try to get it in the camera first!

Melissa Rodwell