Rule of Thirds

One of the most well known rules of composition is the rule of thirds. This is one of a number of ‘rules’ that can be used to help achieve an effectively framed image. We can apply this rule either in the camera, or when cropping an image in post production. Interestingly, there has been a backlash against this rule, possibly due to the fact it is the first, and often last, of the compositional rules that anyone uses. However, if you have not yet put thought into your composition, this is a place to start. Before explaining what the rule of thirds is, let’s look at some examples.

Look at the images above, and imagine a noughts and crosses (tic tac toe) grid placed over the photo. In each case the subject, and often the subject’s eye, is placed where the lines of such a grid would cross. This can be seen in the photo below, where I have left an overlaid grid across the picture. In this photo, the character is positioned on the intersecting lines at bottom-right, but when framing an image, the other three points are equally valid.

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Lightroom Screen Shot

In Lightroom you can see this grid by going into the crop mode. Once in crop mode you can press ‘o’ on your keyboard and you will get to flick though a number of compositional grids that will help you frame your image. If you are seeking the best possible quality photos from your camera it is much better NOT to crop your images at all. To help you get it right ‘in camera’, most manufacturers will let you superimpose the thirds grid on your LCD screen, or in your viewfinder.

The photo above works as the character adds to what otherwise, would be a nice, but rather plain landscape photo. The man who is meditating compliments the peacefulness of the lake. Notice, the character is not spot on the point where the two lines meet, but rather sits to the left of the intersecting lines. Do not worry about being too precise, otherwise all your images will look the same.

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Screen Shot from Lightroom.

In the photo above, the character is placed in the centre of the photo. This decision was made as I liked the way the debris surrounded her, creating a ‘frame within a frame’. However, even with the subject centred, the rule of thirds is still evident in the separation of the sky and the land. The building in the background is also placed at a crossroads of two lines. Although we can see how the photo adheres in some way to the rule of thirds, it is quite possible that I was not thinking the rule when the photo was taken.

Breaking The Rules

There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.     

Ansel Adams

Please take the work ‘rule’ in most literal sense. However, you cannot break a rule if you do not know it in the first place. This is something to consider when framing, or cropping a photo. If you do not have any guidelines to help frame your images, then this is something definitely worth your time playing with!

Keep Clicking, Chris

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