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What is the Rule of Thirds?

 17th Mar 2020

Back in 1797 there was an artist and engraver by the name of John Thomas Smith. Questioning predictable composition, Mr Smith coined the phrase ‘rule of thirds’ to describe the experimenting he was doing in his creative works, and the rule of thirds became a building block of composition. 

Composition is the make or break of a photograph. It’s how you position your subject, your horizon, your still life. Composition is artfully placing the focus of your photograph. Composition is more than just placement, it is about shapes, tones, highlights and shadows. This is why the rule of thirds is so important. It gives us a great guideline so we think differently and shoot with more creativity. 

This blog will explain what the rule of thirds is, how to use it, why we use it and why it’s important. Once you’ve had a read, go out and actively look for examples and practice yourself!

What is the rule of thirds?

Now that we have some background we’re going to dive into what this rule actually means for photographers. The rule of thirds is a composition trick that gives you an edge and keeps your photos interesting. You mentally divide the image using two vertical lines and two horizontal lines. Then you put the subject along the lines or at the meeting point of the lines.

First draw two imaginary vertical lines on your image equally spaced apart, dividing it into three sections and then two horizontal lines.

Look at this photo I took of this handsome gent in Lanzarote so you can see what I mean;


With this example you can see how my subject is strategically placed right along the lines and hitting two cross sectional points making for a very pleasing composition.

How do you use the rule of thirds?

In reality you can’t draw the necessary lines to create the guide you need but you can follow the imaginary lines. 

Putting something bang in the middle of the frame can look nice but it’s just a little bland and boring. 

You can easily add some flavour to your photo by moving the direction of your camera and placing your subject on one of the thirds. I guarantee you your image will already start to look better.

Then if the element is too high or too low you can tilt your camera to alter the height. Nestling your subject along the lines according to the rule will make for a much more interesting photograph. 

All you have to do is move your camera.

And you can use the rule of thirds on anything, here is another example;


Why do photographers use the rule of thirds?

Photographers are big fans of this foundational rule for composition because not only does it add to their photos, it’s easy to remember and adds some much needed interest. 

The rule of thirds forces the viewer's eye across the composition as opposed to stagnating in the middle of the image - thus taking in the whole photo. Photographers want their photos to be looked at and enjoyed and what this rule does is make photos more appealing, visually. 

Static images are much less interesting - take your camera out and practice this. Take a photo of the same subject using the rule of thirds and breaking the rule and compare the outcomes. 

You will see for yourself how effective this simple composition rule is and how it makes a huge difference in your work. The rule of thirds is a top trick to have in your rolodex of go to tools for photography. Make sure you take time out to practice it and see how you can make it work for you!

Pop me an email and send me your photos using the rule - I’d love to see what you’re learning. 

You will see for yourself how effective this simple composition rule is and how it makes a huge difference in your work.