Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is often spoken about in photography. In the Rule of Thirds, the main subject is not placed in the center of the composition. As a result, design often looks more dynamic and interesting. The picture plane is divided into thirds vertically and horizontally.

The areas where the vertical and horizontal lines overlap are called the “sweet spots.” Sweet spots are areas where you place areas of interest which include the focal point and an accent or two.

Incorrect! not the Rule of Thirds!

This is an example of a photo not using the Rule of Thirds. The focal point is not on a sweet spot, and the horizon line is dead center.

Not using the Rule of Thirds.

Correct use of the Rule of Thirds!

Depending on where you place the horizon, you will get a different feeling. In this piece, the emphasis is on the water. The boat is nicely placed on the top of the left sweet spot.

Another correct use of the Rule of Thirds. In this case the emphasis is on the sky. The shift creates a different feel using the same photo.

I often use the Rule of Thirds in my personal work. I suggest:

  • I prefer the picture plane divided vertically or horizontally, using either a vertically or horizontally “line” as the main emphasis. Sometimes I use both.
  • Don’t use all 4 sweet spots. Remember the Rule of Odds: odd numbers of items are more pleasing on an unconscious level. Using all 4 sweet spots run the risk of the composition becoming stagnated.

When I emphasize the horizontal lines of the Rule of Thirds I first need to designate what is the horizon. You need to think beyond the technical definition of the horizontal line.

Move the horizon line out of the center.

In the example below the horizon line is in the bottom third.

In the example below the horizon line is in the top third of the grid.

You can also divide the picture plane vertically at the 1/3 marks.

Sometimes you can’t find a horizon line, or the horizon line is so vague that it feels nonexistent. You can still make this concept work while using the grid.  See example below.

The eye is an important feature in humans and animals alike. Have the eye in the sweet spot is a nice touch on the piece.

This photo is using both vertical lines. You need to give this careful consideration if attempting this use of the Rule of Thirds. Because the figure on the right is closer to the view, so looks taller than the figure on the left, a diagonal flow is set up in the composition. Diagonal flows are dynamic. If both figures were on the vertical lines but were the same height, I feel the composition would not be as successful.

Sometimes I use both vertical and horizontal lines. The next two examples show who this works.

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