/Photo Composition 101: A Guide to the Rule of Thirds
photo composition

Photo Composition 101: A Guide to the Rule of Thirds

How many times have you snapped a photo of something awesome, only to find later that your shot is just…meh?

If you’re new to photography and the basics of composition, this may happen to you more often than you’d like!

If you’re serious about photography and learning to snag the perfect shot every time, it’s important for you to learn the basics of photo composition. Rules of composition provide photographers with guidelines that’ll help them to frame every shot in the most compelling way possible.

There are lots of different rules and principles of photo composition. But perhaps the best place to start is with a super-trusted, super-handy one called “the Rule of Thirds.”

To learn how to compose the most striking shots possible using the Rule of Thirds–read on!

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The Rule of Thirds is a technique that aims to help photographers to create balanced, harmonious images by dividing up a photograph’s frame into 9 equal sections.

The simplest way to envision the Rule of Thirds in practice is to take a peek through your camera’s viewfinder, or to look at an image you’ve already taken. Now, imagine that view or image divided into equal thirds, with 2 horizontal dividing lines, and 2 vertical ones. Imagine your image being split by these lines, which act as a sort of grid, so if you were to count each of the little boxes left by the lines, you’d count 9 equal-sized boxes.

Simple enough, right?

The idea behind this grid-like division is that, when the photographer sets up their shot, the most interesting parts of the photo will occur at the intersections of the grid’s lines. The grid sets up 4 different points where 2 lines cross. The Rule of Thirds calls for the photographer to compose their photograph with respect to these 4 lines.

Where’d it Come From?

The history of the Rule of Thirds actually goes back much farther than photography itself does! Even as early as ancient Greece and the Renaissance, we can find evidence of artists employing this principle in their work.

Since long ago, visual artists seem to have recognized the fact that most viewers’ eyes are drawn to elements of asymmetry. They’ve recognized that total balance in an image or other piece of visual art can actually become a little…boring. While symmetry definitely has its place in the world of design, art that’s too balanced or even perfectly mirrored on each half can only hold so much interest. Hence–the prevalence of the Rule of Thirds.

The initial evidence of the Rule of Thirds in those ancient works of art has transformed and adapted to modern art, as well. For example, some of the most iconic and striking scenes from Hollywood are composed according to the Rule of Thirds!

The Rule of Thirds has evolved, adapting to changing times and shifting mediums for visual art. However, one major aspect has always remained the same: the Rule of Thirds has allowed artists, filmmakers, and photographers to use composition in order to create more striking, contrasted, and interesting art.

How Do I Use It?

For some photographers, employing the Rule of Thirds might be a natural tendency. If you’re being intentional with the ways you’re composing shots, you may automatically frame photos according to the intersections of your grid. Remember–this rule exists because of the ways in which humans’ minds naturally work to process images.

For some of us, using the Rule of Thirds may take a little more practice before the composition is second nature. If you’re one of these photographers, you’ll want to start by taking the time to slow down and consider each shot before you take it.

Ask yourself what areas of the image you’re about to take are the most interesting or compelling. Once you’ve determined this, try to visualize your grid. Where do 2 lines of your grid intersect? Can you concentrate those interesting areas along that intersection?

Whenever you’re shooting photos with the Rule of Thirds in mind, take care to be extra-intentional. When you’re starting out with photography and using the principle, it may take a few moments of concentration to get things right.

Depending on the sort of equipment you’re shooting with, your camera may come with an option to display a Rule of Thirds grid directly on your screen.

If it doesn’t have this capability, you might take to Photoshop while editing your photographs; go to Photoshop, then to Preferences, to Guides, Grid & Slices, and set up a grid manually to help you see how you did in your initial composition! From here, you can crop and reframe your images according to the Rule of Thirds and what looks best.

Aren’t Rules Made to be Broken?

Like most rules, the Rule of Thirds can sometimes be broken to allow for some pretty stunning results. Just because you’ve been equipped with this powerful little composition tool doesn’t mean you can never experiment with the framing of your photos again!

As when it comes to many principles of photography and visual design, the Rule of Thirds is one that should be learned early on to inform later compositions. Composing photos with the Rule of Thirds helps photographers be more intentional with their framing. It helps them to understand why they’ve decided to do what they’re doing in terms of aligning photos.

Once you’ve gotten into that intentional mindset, however, start to experiment!

Chances are, you’ll find that some photos look best when they’re taken with respect to the center of the frame. Other photos may look amazing without any real rhyme or reason to them.

Learn and practice the Rule of Thirds. Once you’ve got the hang of it, break it! Oh–but always keep it tucked somewhere in your back pocket. You never know when the rule will come in handy again!

Want More on Photo Composition?

When it comes to photo composition, the Rule of Thirds is really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s loads more information to learn about the art of framing a photo. Every new principle you learn about composition will help you become an even more expert photographer.

If you’re looking for more information on photography and how to compose awesome, appealing shots, check out our page!