Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Rule of Thirds

Have you ever noticed when you're cropping a photo, the crop box divides into 9 boxes? Or maybe when you're ready to take a picture, your camera sections 9 small frames across your LCD screen before the shutter clicks? This is the concept of the Rule of Thirds.

Yes people, there are "rules" in photography. But don't worry, they work in your favor and later as you become more comfortable taking pictures, you learn when you can bend or break these rules.

The Rule of Thirds is an essential technique for capturing eye-catching images. This is one of the methods used to create photos that make you say "Ooo... ahh..."

*awkward silence*

So what is this Rule of Thirds? 

Imagine a grid of lines divided into 3 rows and 3 columns. It should look like a game of tic-tac-toe. This acts as your outline for positioning the subject in the photo. Check your camera settings to see how you can set these gridlines on your screen. It should look something like this:

The Rule of Thirds reveals that the subject or focal point of your photo should be arranged along the lines, intersections or corner sections of the grid.

Why? Good question. Well, there are some psychological reasoning behind this rule, indicating that our eyes are naturally drawn to the imaginary intersections of the grid on an image. Remember when we were young and thought everything had to be in the center of the photo? Yeah, those weren't necessarily the most exciting pictures. The purpose of the Rule of Thirds is to appeal to the eyes and that is why centered subjects don't always make the most eye catching appearances.

How to use this rule

You are free to use this rule every time and all the time you choose. There are no specifics to which intersections you have to use and where you wish to put the object of your focus.

When taking pictures of human or animal faces, it serves best to place one of the eyes along one of the lines. This gives your object a bit of motion and creates a more dynamic look.

Just in case you were wondering if you are completely bound to these rules, no hun, you're not. You do not necessarily have to perfectly align every object in your photos. You're really simply framing objects off an outline not a contract. 

In some case you may be photographing an image that will absolutely not fit with these rules. Some examples may be images of abstract patterns or arrangements, such as tribal prints, tree bark, or the night sky. Your best options are to find some balance within the object or scene and your eyes follow the focus or direction presented. You don't want your photo to be literally all over the place. Remember, you can always crop parts from your photo if you feel the need to do so.

Bending this rule

Yes, once you get the hang of this rule you may unleash your inner rebel.

Bending this rule can mean instead of using your tic-tac-toe outline, your photo may just be a display of symmetry.

Stumped? Ok, here's an example:

Please excuse all the "noise" or fuzziness in this photo (which I will explain in a separate post). Basically, you have to use your imagination when shooting scenes stretching long distances. If you look at the center of this photo, you may also begin to imagine a centered horizon almost separating the top portion and bottom portion of the image.

I'm not sure if I'm the only one, but I actually imagine an invisible X across the image...but it could just be me. Now I haven't heard of using an X as a way to bend the Rule of Thirds, and maybe this honestly might be a bad example, but the idea I wanted to get across was having some balance in between the colors and objects in this photo. Now there isn't a way to divide this scene into nine squares and feel all excited about the picture, so I thought maybe I could divide it into four segments. Well, instead of thinking of a typical + sign, I rotated it to be an X to keep the photo somewhat balanced and proportional. See, I not only bended the rules, I made my own. Ha!

Remember when it's all said and done, there's more than what meets the eye...


  1. Your blog post was very informational and I always wondered what that grid line that showed up on my iPhone screen when taking a picture was. Its actually really helpful to center your pictures and overall your pictures come out better. At least mine did. Great post!

  2. This post is great, I'm glad you focused on this aspect of photography. This is a great post and I like how you made sure to go in depth with your explanations.

  3. That picture is an excellent example of the rule of thirds. Learning the fundamentals of photography can make the simple "phone pictures" look way better. Thanks for posting!

  4. I had never heard of this rule before but that 3x3 box looks familiar. I feel like i've seen it pop up on some cameras when i've tried to use them before. Now I know how to properly use it. Thanks a lot for the tips