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When To Use The Rule Of Thirds In Photography

The rule of thirds is a photography principle allowing you to make your photos more pleasing to the eye.

| General Photography

When To Use The Rule Of Thirds In Photography: rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is a basic principle when it comes to composition in photography. Essentially, any image can be split into thirds, and the idea is that you should place key elements of the image where the red circles are marked in the image above to get the most pleasing composition. But some photos will look better using the rule, and others won't.


How do you tell when you should use the rule of thirds for your picture?


Personal Perspective

The fact is, that it can be down to personal taste as to whether the rule should be used or not. Some people don't give a thought to this rule and frame the image so that it includes what they want it to in a pleasing composition. That's fine, but you should always consider whether the image could be improved by using the rule of thirds.


So what exactly is the rule of thirds?

Basically, the rule splits an image into 9 sections. 3 columns vertically, and 3 rows horizontally creating 9 squares.

The rule of thirds says that for the most pleasing composition, the main subject should be placed in one of the squares, or rest in some part on one of the intersections of the lines in the image.

This is supposed to make it more pleasing to the human eye. The above image demonstrates the 'power points' for images. 

When To Use The Rule Of Thirds In Photography: Rule of thirds

Image by David Pritchard

When To Use The Rule

This depends on the situations you find yourself photographing in. If you find yourself in a vast open countryside area with no vertical objects like trees in the frame, then using the rule of thirds horizontally with the horizon line a third of the way up an image will create a pleasing minimalist composition.

Remember to give objects in images room to breathe, ensuring there is space around the object to avoid the image feeling 'cramped'. The image above is a good example of this.  

If there are distractions, use them to frame your subject. The trick here is to keep multiples of three  - tree, subject, tree, for example. In busier places such as towns and cities it can be more difficult to use the rule in its purest form, but the grid formation can help to compose the image if you're not sure whether to emit a part of the scene through reframing or changing your angle slightly. 


When Not To Use The Rule

Sometimes a subject is strong enough to hold the attention of the viewer and be pleasing enough not to require the rule. Completely frame-filling images, such as macros, for example, sometimes don't require the rule. However, using it on a smaller scale, by slightly changing the central focal point, can make or break the image.

It's all about what you think will work. It's a rule that is quite flexible in how you interpret it, and depending on your preferred subject matter can be used in different ways to create a pleasing image. Why not experiment with your next photo idea, and try to utilise the rule to your advantage in your captures?


Looking for more advice on photography rules? 


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steveb127 Avatar
steveb127 5 1 United Kingdom
19 Aug 2019 6:04PM
It is NOT a rule - merely guidance.

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