What is the rule of thirds? It is a compositional technique used by photographers to produce images with more visual balance. It can be used in any genre of photography and can result in engaging photographs. It one of the more basic concepts of photography composition and is something that is taught to a lot of beginner photographers.
It is however important to remember that within art there are no set rules, so the rule of thirds is more of an aid or concept than a ‘set in stone’ rule.
What is the rule? Essentially the rule of thirds involves dividing up your image into a grid with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines resulting in nine sections. The most common way the rule of thirds is used is to place different elements within the image along the lines or at the points that they cross. This rule is the same for both portrait and landscape format photographs.
Studies have shown that when viewing an image, more people focus on an off-centre point of a photograph opposed the the centre.
When looking through your viewfinder of your camera or even looking at a scene you want to shoot, think about the elements which are most important that you want to be the focus. If you were following the rule of thirds, you would place these elements on or near the lines of the imaginary grid. Different angles will create different images, and keep the rule of thirds in mind can help you to be more creative. Some cameras have an option to create a grid in the viewfinder in order you to actually be able to see the grid in-front of you which can be incredibly helpful.
As mentioned above, the rule of thirds can be used in all genres of photography and is not limited. For example, if you are shooting portraits it can be tempting to put the subject in the centre of the frame in order for focus to be on them. However, try positioning your subject to either side of the centre as it creates more space around them which in turn actually helps the eye focus on the subject more naturally. Similarly, if you are shooting a landscape and the main subject is a house, positioning it off-centre creates an anchor in the image and the eye is drawn to a more natural focal point.
There are, however, situations where the rule of thirds wouldn’t particularly work. In some compositions, if you were to use the rule of thirds it could compromise important elements and even cut them out. So in this case it would be best to not use the rule.
As photography is such a subjective form of expression, the photographer is the only one in control to choose how a composition will be shot to create the image they have envisioned. The rule of thirds is a useful tool for photographers to keep in mind, but it is by no means a set in stone rule.