The Rule of Thirds

Earlier this year, we began diving into composition as part of our Calendar Pets series, starting with a few pointers. Today, we’re taking a look at the rule of thirds — a helpful rule to abide by when setting up your shots.
The rule of thirds is a basic rule of composition which in a nutshell, divides your frame into thirds, positioning your subject where the lines intersect. These ‘sweet spots’ allow the eye to take in the entire scene.

All good photographs should have at least one main subject (point of interest), which should be placed off-centre. Most beginners are tempted to place their subject in the middle. Applying the rule of thirds is a good way to overcome this.

Studies have proven that when viewing images, our eyes naturally go to one of the intersection points rather than the centre of the photograph. Applying the rule of thirds works with our natural inclinations rather than working against them.

The rule of thirds satisfies our sense of visual proportion, so that photos structured in this way appear balanced. Many seasoned photographers have a natural sense of visual balance. They take their photos according to the rule of thirds without being aware of it. They may simply shoot the picture that ‘looks right’ or ‘feels right’, unconsciously applying the rule as they go. In time and with experience, new photographers will develop their own ‘feel’ for composition.

If you subdivide your photo into thirds both vertically and horizontally, you will have three columns and three rows – or nine equal sections. The sections where lines cross are points of interest. These points are where you want to place your subject – parts of the image where you want attention to be drawn or show points of activity.

According to the rule of thirds, the lines that divide the picture are the most effective places to position objects in your photo. For example, the horizon should be positioned on or near the line a third from the top, or a third from the bottom of the picture. Vertical objects like trees should be placed on or near the lines, a third from the left or right of the picture.

Rarely will you use all four points – many times one or two – but this is what creates balance in your composition.

Remembering the rule of thirds may be hard to apply when you’re in the middle of capturing that perfect moment, but no worries. With a little assistance you can add a grid to your DSLR in your camera settings or by using an app on your phone.

When using your iPhone’s native camera, you can enable grid lines by going to Settings, then Photos and Camera – enabling the grid toggle under the Camera section. There are several other camera replacement apps that also let you use grid lines on the screen as a guide. We recommend: VSCO, Camera+ or ProCamera.

For Android, we recommend the following apps to help you master the rule of thirds in composition: Camera For Rule Of Thirds or Sensor Camera.

You may be using the rule of thirds in your own photography already, without even noticing. If not, try imagining the tic tac toe grid superimposed the next time you’re shooting as this will help you achieve better composed photographs. We’d love to see the photos you take for our #calendarpets competition, so share them with us on our Facebook page here.

About the Author: Matt Cooper

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