Create Visually Stunning Photos

Having Great Composition

One of the most well-known photography tricks, the rule of thirds is also among the most powerful. If you seek a way to make your photos look more dynamic and interesting, using the rule of thirds is the way to go.

little girl smiling and laughingBasic Overview

The rule of thirds posits that in order to compose the most interesting photos, the subject(s) need to align with imaginary lines that divide the scene into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Essentially the goal is to imagine a grid in which two vertical and two horizontal lines create nine regions in the photograph. The four points where horizontal and vertical lines intersect are an especially good place for the center of the subject to fall. Oddly, by moving the subject off center, the rule of thirds creates a scene that has much more balance.

Why Use the Rule?

Whether you’re photographing landscapes, sporting events, portraits or engagements, the rule of thirds will allow you to bring more visual interest to the photo. The idea is that by moving the primary subject of the scene to an off-center position, you give viewers a more dynamic photo and one that appears more natural. For example, rather than having a person stand in the dead middle of the frame, moving him or her to the left or right creates more interest. Doing so also prevents the photo from looking like a mugshot!  To see how the rule of thirds can be applied check out the portfolio of Bob Hallam, Chicago Engagement Photographer.

It is important to note that the rule of thirds can be applied on multiple planes. For example, a scene can be composed such that an upright subject is aligned with one of the two vertical lines of the grid, while a horizontal subject is simultaneously aligned with one of the horizontal lines of the grid. This also works with two vertical subjects or two horizontal subjects, or all four at the same time.

Married CoupleImagine a scene in which there is a field in the foreground, a sunset in the background, a tree on the left and a person on the right. Aligning these four distinct subjects along the four planes of the imaginary grid will allow you to compose the shot in a manner that draws attention to each subject while also bringing organization to a scene that could otherwise look and feel overwhelming.

Using the rule of thirds also gives you an opportunity to creatively use the negative space in the frame, or the areas of empty space around your subject. For example, a portrait of a woman standing in a park that is composed using the rule of thirds might have grassy areas or trees in the negative space. The composition of the photo allows for the negative space to define and emphasize the main subject – the woman. It simultaneously allows your eye to be naturally drawn to her while also giving your eye an area to “rest.” The grassy areas and the trees inform you of the environment in which the woman was photographed without becoming the stars of the show.

How to Implement the Rule of Thirds

Using the rule of thirds is pretty straightforward. Survey the scene you’d like to capture and identify the most important subjects. Try to position those elements along (or near) the vertical or horizontal axes of the grid, bearing in mind that they do not have to be perfectly aligned, but just close enough. Moving yourself around, both up and down and left and right, will help you more effectively align the subjects, and can provide a new and interesting composition to the shot.

 Bending (or Breaking) The Rule

As with many rules in art, they aren’t always completely fail safe. Some situations will arise when using the rule of thirds just will not work for your composition. If by throwing the rule of thirds aside you get a much more visually impactful photo, by all means, go for it! Experimenting with different compositions is how you will get the best photos. But before you go off breaking all the rules, be sure you’ve got the rule of thirds down pat. It will help you see scenes with a more critical eye and will actually help you compose better rule-breaking photos too.

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