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Rule Of Thirds

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The Rule of Thirds

The most well known composition rule is the rule of thirds.

Rule of Thirds in Photography

Rule of Thirds in Photography

The Rule of Thirds states we should compose the scene with interesting elements on imaginary intersecting points of the grid.  It is easy to understand and put into practice; people viewing our photos can navigate the scene because of a pleasing, balanced arrangement of elements within our composition.

But let’s be realistic for a moment – the subjects we choose to photograph always don’t fall nice and neatly on the intersections of the grid lines.  As often happens, theory isn’t always workable in real life settings.  In my opinion, there is no better opportunity to bend the rules than with this basic composition guideline.  I usually start by loosely composing my scene around the rule of thirds and then happily bend this rule or ignore it completely, depending on what I want to achieve.   Let’s take a look at some examples.

Breaking the Rule of Thirds for more creative image

Breaking the Rule of Thirds for more creative image

This is a good example of when elements in a scene don’t fall along tidy imaginary grid lines.  I liked the curve of the path and the trees which provided a natural frame; even though the scene didn’t line up according to perfect composition guidelines, it was still possible to compose an interesting photograph.

Shot info:  Dusk, 60mm lens, ISO 640, f2.4, 1/30th second  

By breaking the Rule of Thirds, you can tell the story more clearly.

By breaking the Rule of Thirds, you can tell the story more clearly.

I like portrait of this young man because it has drama and impact; I didn’t want the viewer’s eye to wander around, but rather to notice just him.  Underexposure of background details allowed him stand out, and with a tight crop to centre him, guarantees that he gets all our attention in this shot.

Shot info: Midday, 18-55mm, ISO 640, f8, 1/125 second 

Rule of thirds for horizon but the Sun is centred as breaking the rule of thirds

Rule of thirds for horizon but the Sun is centred as breaking the rule of thirds

I loosely composed this scene and then decided to overlook the rule of thirds by placing the sun and its reflection so it would split the image in two.  I waited for the waves to meet near the bottom of the frame to capture a centred, symmetrical shot. Do I take all sunset shots this way?  No.  But sometimes I like to think outside the box and ignore the rules, leaving me free to explore creative ideas.

Shot info:  18-55mm, ISO 320, f9, 1/250th second

Examine the Rule of thirds to see if it works for your photo, and then break or bend the rule to see if the image is more creative

Examine the Rule of thirds to see if it works for your photo, and then break or bend the rule to see if the image is more creative

I liked how the bright pink buoy made a splash of colour on the calm surface of the lake.  I tried placing it – the buoy – in various positions around the frame within my viewfinder, but kept coming back to liking it near the centre.  If time is a luxury I like to try various composing options before pressing the shutter release; sometimes I end up with something quite different than what I originally wanted to do.

Shot info:  Late afternoon, 60mm, ISO 200, f8, 1/200th second 

The Rule Of Thirds is an excellent compositional rule and when all the elements in your shot fall neatly on the grid lines you’ll wind up with a balanced, pleasing scene.  Or you can be flexible with this rule to create something unique and different!

We love to hear from you – do you use the rule of thirds often in your compositions?  If you haven’t already joined our Facebook group Rebel Photographers, head on over to join the group, post your photos and connect with other photographers.

Cheryl Wiens

Next week’s topic:  Point of view rules/guidelines

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