The Rule of Thirds

Who knows why, but dividing something into thirds is more pleasing to the eye than dividing it in half. This principle is applied to photography through the “rule of thirds.” My videography professor reminds his students of this “rule” all the time. It’s a simple guideline—not actually a hard-and-fast rule—that will help you compose better-looking photos and videos. Here’s how to use it:

  • Visualize a tic-tac-toe board over your screen, or enable the “guide lines” or “grid lines” feature in your camera’s options. This separates your potential picture (or video frame) into thirds.
  • Place the subject of your image on one of the lines, not between the lines. That is, if your subject is a person, put their eyes two-thirds of the way toward the top, and their head two-thirds of the way toward one side of the picture.

Heed the natural flow of the picture. For example, if a person is looking toward the right, put them near the left side of the picture and leave more space on the right side, so their eyes have “somewhere” to be looking.

This couple is walking toward their right, so I left more room on that side than on their left.

This couple is walking toward their right, so I left more room on that side than on their left.

In addition to providing room in the picture, so people’s gazes aren’t “cut off,” placing a subject off to one side simply makes the photo more interesting.

The dividing lines are slanted, but there are still three layers in this image. Can you see them?

The dividing lines are slanted, but there are still three layers in this image. Can you see them?

Of course, you may sometimes want to center a subject—to make it dramatic, for example, or to emphasize symmetry. As I’ve often said on this blog, use your own aesthetic judgment, experiment, and practice!

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