Random Thoughts

The Rule of Thirds: Don’t knock it

Written by Gail Bjork

Don’t get hung up on words. The Rule of Thirds is a valuable tool that can improve the composition of many photos.

Rule of Thirds gridA newcomer to photography recently asked in a photo forum, “What makes a good photo?” Good question! The responses included a range of thoughts and suggestions, both technical and aesthetic.

I responded that he take some time to research principles of composition, pointing out that principles are only guidelines. I suggested that a good place to start was to use The Rule of Thirds.

Another forum participant came along and responded, “While I do not care to dispute anyone’s personal opinion, I would caution you not to be trapped into blindly following ‘rules.’”

Okay, fine. Isn’t that what I said when pointing out that Principles of Composition, as they are called, are simply guidelines?!

I don’t understand why some people get so hung up on words and, in this case, perhaps inadvertently discourage someone from giving the Rule of Thirds a try.

Time-honored rule

Rule of Thirds gridsThe Rule of Thirds is an imaginary grid of four lines that vertically and horizontally divide an image into thirds. By placing the subject or center of interest at an intersecting point, composition is improved.

The Rule is a time-honored and effective principle of composition used by artists for centuries. According to Wikipedia, the term “appears as early as 1797 as a rule for proportioning scenic paintings.”

You’ll get over a million returns if you do a Google search on the phrase: The Rule of Thirds! Perhaps we should ask all of them to change the phrase to Guideline of Thirds. 🙂

Rule of Thirds grid

Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds focus screen

A Rule of Thirds grid, included as a menu option in many digital cameras, can be turned on and displayed as on overly on the LCD. In fact, I keep the grid displayed all the time on my compact digital cameras, though I may choose to ignore it. Even if I don’t use it for composition, it sure helps keeping horizon lines straight.

Professional and other photographers can buy replacement focusing screens for their SLR/DSLRs with The Rule of Thirds grid.

The Rule can also be used to improve composition when cropping photos.

Improve composition using the Rule of Thirds

I highly recommend The Rule of Thirds to those desiring to improve the composition of their photos. The Rule, after all is a starting…not an end…point.

Visit our Rule of Thirds Gallery for additional sample photos

Sceenshot courtesy of Katz Eye Optics

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.

2 Comments

  • Joe, I wish it were that easy. Even some of the greatest artists in time had teachers. As this artist and teacher wrote about The Rule of Thirds:

    “Once the rule is acknowledged, fixed in the artist’s or photographer’s head, the rule becomes part of his or her own eyesight in establishing an interesting, intriguing composition and no longer is a RULE to be followed.”

    Musicians, artists and sports players, like photographers, all benefit from training. Then they are free to go out on their own and develop their own style and vision. They can adapt, modify or reject the rule if they so desire. If everyone has an innate aesthetic vision, sometimes it needs drawing out.

  • If only people would learn to trust their innate aesthetic vision, they wouldn’t need dumbed down ‘rules’ like the abhorrent ROT.   Further, what’s the point of following it?  Is it to make images that look like those of  everyone else blindly following ROT?  Yea, that sounds swell. 🙁   If you ever want to make a photograph that expresses your sense of style and beauty, you will have to banish ROT, and all those other ‘rules out of composition,’ from your consciousness.