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What is the Rule of Thirds?

Published: 15/11/2021

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Are you wondering, what is the rule of thirds? The rule of thirds is perhaps the most well-known "rule" of photographic composition. Well, it's not a rule; it’s more of a standard guideline for photographers and a skill that, when mastered, can significantly improve your art.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The rule of thirds is a well-known compositional method that divides your frame into three equal parts, with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines intersecting at four points. It puts the subject in the left or right third of the image, leaving two-thirds open.

Practice makes perfect when it comes to mastering any skill. The rule of thirds is no different. Continuous practice will help build muscle memory, and in no time, you will be able to visualize the lines in your head and take amazing photos. 

Why is the Rule of Thirds Useful?

If you are wondering what the rule of thirds can do for you, well, it is mainly about two things:

  • Creates balance - By positioning the photo well on the grid lines and points of intersection, it creates a visual in a third of the composition while also balancing out the space in the remaining two-thirds. This looks and feels fantastic to the viewer.
  • Movement - When images are centrally positioned, they can become boring to the viewer as their eyes have nowhere to wander to. Using this rule of thirds has been proven to create dynamism in your photos. 

Rather than having the viewer focus on just one key element, they're taken for a visual journey through all aspects as they explore what you have composed.

Rule of thirds photo of outdoor pool area

How Does the Rule of Thirds Work?

The rule of thirds suggests placing the subject off-center. The human eye is drawn to points that are just beyond the picture's center. These points represent the intersections of the Rule of Thirds grid. Therefore,  which intersecting points should you use? That will depend on what you are photographing.

For small objects, use an intersection on the grid. This will act as an excellent focal point for the observer. If the object is large or long, you should place it along one entire line.

Portraits

There are about 1,906 portrait photographers in America, with 7% of them working in the real estate sector. You may also utilize a vertical format in real estate shoots if it helps to make the features of a home appear more appealing. 

For the best results when taking portraits, we apply the rule of thirds. 

  • Align their eyes to the upper two intersections points.
  • Align your subject's shoulders along the lower-third grid line, giving the subject a natural and relaxed appearance.
  • Angle your subject towards other empty quadrants in the grid. This will draw your viewer more into the portrait.
  • When taking horizontal images for print photography, make sure there is no critical information in the middle of the image.

Subjects Looking in a Specific Direction

When the subject faces a particular direction, we want to leave a space in the direction they are looking towards. For example, If you are taking a portrait and the subject is looking towards the right, place them along the grid line on the left, leaving a space on the right side.

Moving Objects

If the subject is moving, leave a space in the direction they are moving in. This gives the subject a sense of direction and allows viewers to understand where they are headed.

Landscape Photography

Here, we would want to:

  • Position the subject along the right vertical third line.
  • Then position the horizon line along with the lower third of the grid. This will create a sense of expansiveness and draw the viewer's attention to the sky above.
  • Positioning the horizon along the upper third will draw the viewer's eye to the foreground, creating a sense of proximity with the landscape.
  • When interesting natural features like rivers, peaks, or waterfalls are among the landscape, place the exciting feature on one of the four intersection points. This will create a focal point.

Photography For Real Estate shares in-depth information on portrait photography and landscape photography

Street Photography

Street photography, more often than not, tends to be very chaotic. Using the rule of thirds helps create a sense of order and balance in your street art.

  • Position the subject on an intersection point or separate the subject from the crowd and place each along with complementary intersection points. This brings clear focal points to an image directing the viewer's attention to what you desire them to see.
  • If buildings are present, align them along the vertical lines. This creates a sense of order.
  • For the horizon, align it along the bottom-most horizontal line to create a sense of space.

Want to learn more about street photography?

Editing

When reframing or cropping photos, the rule of thirds can also apply. If your editing software comes with the rule of thirds feature, turn this on and, using the grid lines, adjust the horizontal and vertical skew of your image so that the lines align with the grid.

Rule of thirds photography of flower vase in a table

Quick Tips

Before taking any photo, ask yourself these two questions:

  • What are my points of interest? - These are the areas of the photo you want to stand out or emphasize.
  • Where am I intentionally placing these points? - Answering the first question will make it easier to know what to place along the grid lines.

Can I Break the Rule of Thirds?

You might be wondering if all photos must follow this format. The answer is no. Although the rule of thirds helps take great photos, it does not mean we can not break from this rule. We also have many more photographic composition tips at our disposal.

When Does the Rule of Thirds Not Apply?

When symmetry is desired. - If your goal is to portray a dramatic, aggressive, or shouting image

When we want to fill the frame,- Some images like buildings look better upfront; thus, if you want to fill the entire frame with the image, you can forgo the rule of thirds.

Alternatives to the Rule of Thirds

Here are some alternatives to the rule of thirds:

  • Dead center: Centering an image highlights symmetry and pattern in a way that the rule of thirds does not since. 
  • To the edges: When capturing a wide area like an exciting sky and a relatively featureless landscape, give most of the frame to the sky and drop the horizon right down. This edging gives your photo a broader outlook. 
  • Cornered: Corners are usually forgotten in photography. Rarely do we think of placing our subject in the frame corners. Most editors also prefer to darken the corners to draw the viewer's attention to the image's center.

Break from this norm and try using your corners more actively. Art is all about experimentation anyway. Who knows, you might love it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Primary Concern of the Rule of Thirds?

The primary reason for observing the rule of thirds is to discourage centralization or dividing photos in half. Such photos may seem boring to a viewer.

How Can I Use The Rule of Thirds Effortlessly

When taking a photo, imagine lines with points of intersection. Position the subject so that the points of intersection fall on the areas you want viewers to focus on. Practice the skill enough to master it. 

What is the Most Vital Point in the Rule of Thirds?

The subject in the foreground is stronger than the one in the background, although the rule of thirds can emphasize or reduce their strengths. The bottom right point is the strongest when dealing with multiple subjects, and the upper left is the weakest.

Conclusion

The rule of thirds is a clear and simple guideline for compositional balance. It's important to know how to apply the rule and when it should be applied to produce an aesthetically pleasing result. 

PFRE Team
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