Perhaps the most well known principle of photographic composition is the “Rule of Thirds”. It is one of the most basic tools that can be used to create balanced and visually appealing shots. However, before we get into it I must warn you that rules are meant to be broken and ignoring this one does not mean that your pictures will necessarily be unbalanced or uninteresting. In fact, the opposite can often be true!
What is the Rule of Thirds?
Put very simply, the basic principle is to break an image down into thirds both horizontally and vertically so that you have 9 parts (as seen in the picture to the right). Now keeping this grid in mind, the “rule of thirds” gives you four lines - two horizontal and two vertical - that can be used to help you compose your shot. Try positioning the points of interest in your picture either along one of the lines or at the intersections.
Quick tip: some digital cameras can overlay the rule of thirds grid on top of the viewfinder to make this a lot easier, so have a browse around in the menu to see if you can find it.
The theory is that by placing the points of interest in accordance with the “rule of thirds”, your picture will look more visually balanced and it will be easier for the viewer to focus on the object of interest. Studies have shown that when viewing an image, people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points more naturally than to the centre of the photograph; so by using the ‘rule of thirds’ your picture will work with the viewer rather than against them.
Applying the “rule of thirds” to your photography comes naturally to some photographers but it can take a little practice for it to become second nature. Once again, remember that breaking the rule can result in some striking shots too, so once you have learnt it experiment with purposely breaking it to see what you discover.
Finally, keep the “rule of thirds” in mind as you subsequently edit your photos. Photo editing tools today have good features for cropping and reframing images so that they fit better with the rule. Experiment with some of your old pictures to see what impact it has.
If you would like to learn more about composition, or anything else to do with photography, then get involved with the Photographic Society.
You can find out more at our website: union.ic.ac.uk/photosoc or you can email us at email@example.com