What is the rule of thirds?
The rule of thirds is a composition guideline that places your subject in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two thirds more open. While there are other forms of composition, the rule of thirds generally leads to compelling and well-composed shots.
If you imagine dividing a photo, or even your camera’s viewfinder, into nine equal zones using horizontal and vertical lines, that forms your rule-of-thirds grid — a setting you can select on most cameras and even on your phone.
“This might be a generational thing, but if you think of The Brady Bunch intro where you have the nine identical rectangles,” Ingersoll explains, “they’re all the same size and it’s three by three — three rows, three columns.”
That means the corners of the central square are the intersection points in your grid where you want to place the focal point of your shot. It’s called the rule of thirds, but you can think of it as giving you four crosshairs with which to target a shot’s important elements. This will help you balance your main subject with negative space in your shot to nail an effective photographic composition that will draw the viewer’s eye.
First-hand advice on using the rule of thirds.
Repetitious, practical use of the rule of thirds is the best way to understand it and hone your skills — at some point, the grid lines and their intersecting points will be ingrained in your brain. Until then, here are some photography tips from working professionals that can help steer your experimentation in the right direction.
1. Practice with your camera’s rule-of-thirds grid: “Turn it on so you can see what you’re doing as you’re doing it,” Plicanic suggests. “Eventually, you get a feel for it.”
2. Take a rule-of-thirds field trip: “Go to a park or somewhere and try to take ten good pictures that follow the rule-of-thirds model,” says wedding photographer Anna Goellner. “The more you do it, the more it gets ingrained into your head.”
3. Keep your eye on the eyes: “Choose where you want your point of focus to exist before you’re shooting. I’m always going for the eyes,” author and animal photographer Carli Davidson says.
Breaking the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds may not be a hard-and-fast decree, but moving away from an artistic guardrail like this can be intimidating for a beginner. Here are a few examples of where and when experienced pros throw the guideline to the wind: