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Using the Rule of Thirds in Your Photography

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How much time and effort do you put into framing up your photos? Do you simply point and shoot or is there some thought as to how your subject is captured? Are you aware that math can play an important part in photography composition? We’re not talking about algorithms or long division, but the rule of thirds is a simple way to improve your photo taking skills. 

If your photo results are falling flat or failing to earn more likes, more expensive photo gear doesn’t always change that. Instead, learn more about improving composition with the rule of thirds.   

What Is the Rule of Thirds?

Dartboard abstract background

The rule of thirds is one of the most useful composition techniques in photography. You can use it in all types of photography to produce more engaging and better balanced images. It involves breaking any image you want to photograph into thirds, horizontally and vertically, so that you have nine equal parts.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t a photographer who invented the rule of thirds. It was discussed back in 1797 by painters. They were discussing the balance between warm to cold colors and how much of the painting should each of the elements occupy. They said that one third should be composed of land and water, and the other two thirds should remain for air and sky. This is where the idea for the name came from.

If you’re not a photographer and wondering how to use the rule of thirds in designs, the info here applies to most everything you aim to create regardless of the medium. 

How to Use the Rule of Thirds 

Rule of thirds grid

Within the grid, you’ll notice the lines intersect at four distinct points or points of interest. Imagine this grid when you peer through your viewfinder. Or, use the LCD that’s used to frame the shot you’re about to take.

This rule is so popular that most digital cameras come with a rule of thirds grid overlay. It’s right there in front of you to help better frame your shots. This grid will help you position the elements in your shot and frame the most important parts of your photo. 

Basically, the rule of thirds states that if you place the main subject of your photo in the top, bottom, left, or right sections of the grid, you’ll snap a perfect picture every time.

Rule of Thirds Landscape

Tree foliage in beautiful morning light with sunlight in summer. Sunrise on the field with hay, trees and sun

Apply the rule of thirds to your landscape photography by following some simple guidelines.

To start, align the horizon of the shot with one of the horizontal lines on your rule of thirds grid (the bottom one is usually best). The horizon doesn’t have to line up precisely with the horizontal line. The key here is to use the rule of thirds grid to help you better frame the shot and avoid things like cutting your image in half by lining up the horizon across the center of the frame.

If there are other elements within the landscape photo, aim to place them near at least one of the four points of interest. Remember, that’s where your viewers will look first. Make a good impression by adding something interesting and exciting near the focal point.

This image is one of the better rule of thirds examples. Notice in the image above that the horizon is near the bottom line. Plus, the main subject of the image, the tree, is right on two of the four focal points.

Breaking Rule of Thirds

It is possible to break the rule of thirds and end up with beautiful photos. In fact, sometimes you can end up with an even stronger composition by ignoring the rule. So while it’s encouraged to learn and use the rule of thirds, experiment with breaking it.

Closeup view of a blue agave plant as seen from directly above

One of the best instances to break the rule of thirds is when photographing symmetrical subjects. If you’re photographing a succulent or flower from above, the symmetry looks even more striking when perfectly centered in the frame.

The important thing is to first learn the rule of thirds. Then, pushing it to find ways of breaking the rule of thirds will only make your understanding of composition even better. The quality of your photography will show as a result. Before long you’ll find yourself looking at the world around you differently, even without a camera in your hand. 

Show Your Best Rule of Thirds Results

An excellent way to see improvement in your photo taking skills is via before and after comparisons. Photography is best appreciated when it’s printed. So assemble your favorite photos in your collection and print them in a photo book. It’s really easy with Motif. Then, spend some time practicing the rule of thirds. After several months or even a year, create another with your new photos. Having printed photo books to view side by side lets you see how your skills as a photographer have advanced. Plus, they’re so much easier to view and share than scrolling through your camera roll.