The “Rule of Thirds” one of the first things that beginner photographers learn about in classes on photography and rightly so as it can help you create well balanced and interesting shots.
I (D. Rowse) will say right up front however that rules are meant to be broken and ignoring this one doesn’t mean your images are necessarily unbalanced or uninteresting. However a wise person once told me that if you intend to break a rule you should always learn it first to make sure your breaking of it is all the more effective!
Also keep in mind it’s just one composition technique of many – we have quite a few articles on other techniques and rules of composition here.
What is the Rule of Thirds?
The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts. As follows.
As you’re taking an image you would have done this in your mind through your viewfinder or in the LCD display that you use to frame your shot.
With this grid in mind the ‘rule of thirds’ now identifies four important parts of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image.
Not only this – but it also gives you four ‘lines’ that are also useful positions for elements in your photo.
The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally.
Studies have shown that when viewing images that people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally rather than the center of the shot – using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing an image rather than working against it.
That said, have you ever tried to divide a candy bar or similar treat into thirds? Even harder, would be liquids, like a 4 ounce bottle of 18 year old Scotch. Fortunately, growing up, there were four of us kids. Division was easy: half, then half again, no cheating!!!