Have you ever heard that term in the world of Art? When photographing or painting an image of any kind, knowing the rule of thirds (in my opinion) is one of the top reasons for great art. In photography it doesn’t matter what camera you are using. From the cheapest homemade camera to the most expensive, the rule of thirds is it!
First of all, what is the rule of 3rds?
The basic principal behind it is to imagine breaking an image into a tic tac toe image in your view finder. So you have 9 parts in your view. Here’s is a simple example of the grid. Most of us are here for people or pet photography, but this also applies to layouts too. But I will mostly use examples of people for this tutorial.
What are those X’s you ask?
The grid shaped rule of 3rds concept helps you understand the places on image where a viewer’s eye is naturally drawn to when viewing an image.
The most eye-catching points are where the
grid lines intersect.
This grid is usually imaginary; however, some cameras now days have it built-in. With this grid in mind it can help you compose a better piece of artwork or photo to determine a more appealing crop. Consider placing points of interest in those intersecting lines. They do not have to be exactly on the X. In the sample below you will see I am not. Just remember, you do not want to place your subject straight on, directly in the middle of the shot like a mug shot or driver’s license photo.
For some artists it comes naturally. I didn’t realize I even had it until people started really commenting on my photography when I started practicing portraits. For some it is a learned skill. Rules are made to be broken but if you don’t know them, then how will you know when to break them and when not to.
First of all when you are learning, you want to ask yourself …
What are the point(s) of interests in this shot?
Where am I intentionally placing that intersecting grid line?
Are all photos going to be bad if I don’t use the rules of thirds? Probably not terrible or unworthy, but once you learn it, you will see a change in your style and start to see more excitement in your previews. And there will be more keepers in the pile or even wall worthy.
More about the point of interest…
When it comes to people portraits, what are you trying to display? The fashion that they are wearing, or their personality? Looking at a portrait as opposed to a fashion magazine, you will see portraits are focused on personality. This starts in the eyes. Fashion you need not to focus on the face at all because the focus is the outfit. Yes, there are beautiful girls but what does the photographer for that company focus on ? Not a portrait of a woman, but a portrait of an outfit on a beautiful woman. So there you have it, not addressing the woman at all; she is just an accessory, and their product sells. Now when you are photographing a landscape, what do you want to display, the land or the sky? So where would that horizon lie on the grid? It is all in what you want to portray.
Here are some examples of using the rule of 3rds in a portrait.
You can see none of these shots are exactly on the X but they are composed to lean towards one side or the other giving the image room for they eye to roam. The eye will naturally go to the point of interest, roam around the photograph then end back up at the point of interest.
It is ok to think outside of the box and cut off the hat, or even part of their head if it is a close up. As long as you know WHERE to cut it off. Positioning your subject is very important as well. People are naturally vertical so most of the time I photograph in a vertical position. The best read I have ever had is by Nik Kelsh. He has a series (you can get it on Amazon CHEAP) on how to photograph babies, your family, life events, etc… They are oldies but goodies, because it is timeless, dateless photography style. The clothes and hairstyles may be out date but his style will never be. Modern photographers are using his techniques as well; they just have more modern examples. I will always cherish the books he has. They have great ideas and from time to time I like to browse through them. You have to create your own style using these basic techniques, not so much “copy cat” because trust me, it doesn’t work if you really want to be exact. But these books give you a guide so you can then you use your own creativity to enhance the ideas.
Here is one more shot for a horizontal view that was a candid shot. Some shots may not turn out perfect in camera but any photo editor or even most text editors have the crop feature so you can turn your throw aways into give aways. Even a Kiosk, or online options let you crop, but it is always best to get it right in camera first because cropping has a whole new set of rules. Gotta watch out for those pixels you can’t even see!
If my son was my only subject, then this would not look right, but with Dad showing him how to fish it tells a story. Placing Dad as the dominant one in the picture, (point of interest) your eyes roam around and look at the photograph, normally the eye would catch that point of interest first, look around the photo then end back at the point of interest. This is what tells the story. I also left intentional space to the right to show what they are doing giving the subject room to display that they are fishing in a river, something to look at with more interest.
I hope you have enjoyed this short tutorial in the rule of 3rds. It is very simple and basic but important to know.
Stay tuned for more basic tutorials on how to take better pictures. Never forget to read your camera manual and what it is capable of, so you can set your limits on what you know you can and can’t do with each camera. But no matter which one you choose, if you keep this rule in mind you will have the best knowledge on how to shoot great pictures, because it is the user that takes the photo, not the camera. The camera only records the light.
If you are interested in Quick tips on “how to take better pictures” or “Let’s talk about your camera” I would be happy to have you go through my tutorial pages on the top bar drop down menu for more good reads on tutorials, and yet more to come. I love to share the knowledge and looking forward to giving you more, as being a part of the new blogging team for Julianna Kneipp from the “Sweet Shoppe” I would love to hear your feed back on ideas for new tutorials of what you would like to know, or see. I am also scheduled for a hybrid tutorial on the 22nd so mark your calendars! It’s one you don’t want to miss if you don’t already know how!