Using the Rule of Thirds

Last Updated on March 16, 2021

If you are new to photography you may be wondering what the rule of thirds is all about. If you read the beginner photography guide then you know that this is a very important concept that can help you improve your image composition.

So achieving great image quality take more than having a great type of camera and lenses. Having the ability to create interesting composition in your images is an important skill and that is exactly where the rule of thirds comes in.

rule of thirds template

What is the Rule of Thirds in Photography?

If you have spent any time studying or talking about photography then you very well may have heard the rule of thirds mentioned. But understanding what it is and how to use it is very important. The rule of thirds in photography plays a tremendous role in your composition.

Your ability to utilize composition in your photography can be the difference between capturing an image that is interesting and producing nothing that anyone will notice. Therefore, composition is a huge part of producing great images, and the rule of thirds can be a part of creating that composition.

While having the right equipment is important in achieving great results, photography also requires that you have an understanding of how to use those tools and having an eye for capturing interesting images. Having a great eye for composition becomes even more important when shooting a scene that has been captured many times before. This will allow you to capture a fresh and interesting image even if the scene has been photographed a ton of times before.

Composition is how you choose to arrange the elements within a scene. This is the perspective of your camera and the rule of thirds is one compositional technique you can use to create an interesting image.

The rule of thirds is one of the first composition techniques that should be learned if you are serious about improving your photography skills. If you practice it is easy to learn and will dramatically improve the quality of your composition.

The rule of thirds means that you will break your scene into thirds. You will do this both vertically and horizontally which will leave you with nine rectangles of equal size.

These nine rectangles should be something you visualize in your minds eye. They create four intersection points for you to work with. (Some modern cameras actually offer a mode where the rectangles can be shown on the viewfinder screen)

The grid lines are meant to help you position your scene in an interesting way, they will not be visible on your image.

The most important part of this grid are the four points where the lines intersect. These points of intersection are where you will position the most important aspects of the scene you are shooting.

So for example, if you are shooting a landscape the grid lines can help you place the horizon on the two thirds line dividing your scene in a symmetrical and naturally pleasing manner.

Now let’s say that you are shooting a portrait of a client. You will want to make certain that you place the focal point of your subject on one of the intersecting lines. This will automatically create a more interesting image than if placed at some random point in the frame.

The rule of thirds is really getting at the concept of how negative space relates to interesting elements within a scene. Using this composition tool allows you to set the focal point in a way that feels natural.

When thinking about the rule of thirds it is important to remember that the key point is where the line intersect and placing important scene elements at these points.

Points of Interest Explained

girl standing on grid looking up

The rule of thirds is best used when shooting a scene that contains multiple points of interest. Points of interest in a scene can be a mountain peak and another prominent element when shooting a landscape photo. Another example would be when shooting a portrait. The subjects eyes are both points of interest in this type of scene.

Placing these multiple points of interest on an intersecting line is an awesome way to instantly create a more interesting image.

So when multiple points of interest within a scene are placed on intersecting lines, the image will create energy, interest, and tension creating a pleasing and balanced image.

The way we look at images makes the eye naturally drawn to these points in a scene. That is why this technique is so powerful.

Scene Elements

Every scene is comprised of elements and how we position them dramatically effects how interesting our images will be.

For example, when shooting a landscape scene there can be a ton of elements that we can work with to create an interesting composition. In these situations there is not just a single point of interest.

By using the rule of thirds you have up to four different lines to arrange these elements and as long as you do so you are going to get a more interesting image.

When to break the rule of thirds in photography

Because the rule of thirds is often one of the first rules of composition learned by most photographers it is used very frequently. While it can be used easily and should be used, the fact that it is used so much means that it can be overused if you are not careful.

Like any rule, there are times when you will want to break it. The key is that you must know how to break it in a meaningful way. If you choose not to follow the rule of thirds then you better have a very good compositional reason to do so.

Using the Rule of Thirds in Post Production

While I do not recommend relying on post production too heavily as it can become a crutch, it can be a handy tool in helping you get the most out of your shots. And you can make adjustments using the rule of thirds in post production.

If you use Lightroom or Photoshop, you can adjust your images in post production to make sure that points of interest fall on the intersecting lines if they are a bit off. This gives you another opportunity to make your images more interesting.

Now that you know what the rule of thirds is and how to use get out there and practice. You will get this concept down quickly if you do and you will be able to capture much more interesting images. Happy shooting!