Photographic Innoventions: Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a compositional rule in photography and other visual arts. The rule states that an image can be divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines. The four points formed by the intersections of these lines can be used to align features in the photograph. This aligning of a photograph’s subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the photo than simply centering the subject would. However, like the Pirate’s Code, the Rule of Thirds is more like a guideline than an actual rule.

Below is a photograph of Off Kilter’s Bassist, Mark Weldon, where I am showing you how the Rule of Thirds applies. (Note, it’s not exact as I hand drew in the lines but it’s close enough for our purposes.) Notice in three of the four intersections there are strong subjects close by: Mark’s tilted head in the upper left and both his hands in the lower two.

rule of thirds
Rule of Thirds.

Many people feel the application of the Rule of Thirds turns everyday snapshots into professional looking photographs. I know as I edit my photos, the ones which follow this rule stands out above ones that don’t. Especially, when taking pictures of people. For instance, we’ve all taken pictures of a person or group of people in front of the Magic Kingdom’s entrance with the train station and flowers in the exact center of the Mickey symbol. I am guilty of this. Next time, try composing the people in one of the lower intersection points. I think you’ll find the photographs will appeal to you more.

Another popular mistake people make is putting the horizon right in the middle of their picture. Effectively disecting the image in two. You should try to put the horizon at either the upper or lower third of your viewfinder when composing.

By practicing the Rule of Thirds, you’ll find yourself thinking a bit before pressing the shutter. Recomposing in the viewfinder or retaking an image after looking at the photo you just took. The fun of digital photography is how easy and fast it is to learn to take better pictures. Another fun project is to review past photos which you thought were okay, crop them using the Rule of Thirds and see, if by doing so, makes them better.

Now, I think I owe Mark and all of you an unobstructed look as I captured him jamming to a Celtic tune during my last trip to Walt Disney World. Off Kilter can be seen several times a day at Epcot’s Canadian pavilion when scheduled to perform. Check the link for more information about the band and their schedule.

Mark Weldon
Off Kilter Bassist, Mark Weldon.
Nikon D70/18-200VR, 1/60s, f/5.6, 200 ISO, 0 EV, 200mm Focal Length

Scott's "Photographic Innoventions" blog focuses on intermediate to advanced photography concepts and techniques relevant for Point and Shoot and Digital SLR cameras.

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