a photo study: rule of thirds

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Photography is an art form and as such need not rely on rules.  Yet, it is important for the photographer to keep in mind that the composition rules help create balanced, dynamic, and interesting images that invite a viewer to stay and visit in comfort.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is the element of composition that begins with dividing an image into thirds, horizontally and vertically, creating nine imagined sections.  

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The theory is that if you place your subject in the intersections or along the lines, your image becomes more balanced and will enable the viewer to interact with the story more naturally.  

With the rule of thirds in mind, it is recommended that the photographer should compose a photographer by asking, 

“what are the points of interest in this shot?”

“where am I intentionally placing them?”

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Studies show that the human eye naturally is drawn more to one of the four intersection points than the the center of the image.  Yet, sometimes a photographer finds that placing the subject right in the middle of the frame makes for a more interesting composition. 

Centering

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“Breaking” the rule of thirds opens the door to symmetry, creating balance on both sides of the image as well as the top and bottom. 

We find beauty in natural symmetry. A butterfly, for example, has perfect symmetry when it opens its wings. Snowflakes, flowers and seashells also gift us with the beauty of balance.   

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Depth of field

Scenes that feature a shallow depth of field may also not require rule of thirds placement. That’s because a shallow depth of field creates dimension in a photograph, and our eyes are drawn into images that have dimension. You will look into a shallow background even when you can’t identify what’s there, because your eye automatically wants to move through a scene that seems to have depth and dimension.

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Love to hear your thoughts about rule of thirds and see how you use this basic composition tool in your creative endeavors.

I hope you enjoy Saurav Sinha’s discussion about composition.

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12 thoughts on “a photo study: rule of thirds

    1. I’m glad you found his video to be both educational and entertaining. I’ve watch a couple of his videos and have found valuable tip bits of information.

  1. I am puzzled by the rule of thirds all photographers talk about. I have a BFA in painting and printmaking. I’ve studied art history and nowhere in my years of schooling or any other text I have read on art has there ever been a mention of the rule of thirds. It’s just not a rule of composition.

    It can be useful to get photographers to shift their subject out of the center of the frame, but proportions like the golden mean are more meaningful.

    1. Thank you for this clarification…maybe that is why some of the best photographers have a background in painting and photo instructors recommend studying art history as well as the work of painters. Just as an aside, I find the golden mean to be a bit more difficult to understand and apply than the rule of thirds. Can you refer me to an elementary definition from which to develop my understanding and inclusion?

      1. You’re right, the golden mean would be hard to apply. I always compose instinctively, drawing on my experience to sense what feels right. I’m sure you can find reference material on the golden mean online.

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