Photography Element of Composition: Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the most popular rules of photography composition – in fact it is the first one I ever learned. The rule of thirds guides the placement of your subject within the image. Most of us before we become intentional about photography tend to place our subject in the center of the image.

What is the rule of thirds?

It is when you break down the image into 9 equal rectangles like so:

rule of thirds

And you place your subject along the lines like so:

rule of thirds

Bonus points if you have your subject (or the most important part of your subject) at the intersection of the lines. The four intersections are called power points and are indicated by the stars in the first image.

So why is the rule of thirds so popular?

It creates a bit of energy and movement to the image. Your eye wanders to the dog and then to the space in front of it and back to the dog again. The dog feels balanced by the space, the image is psychologically pleasing. Compare the image above to the one below:

Here, the dog is surrounded by the same amount of space on all sides so the eye settles on the dog and the image feels more static, less interesting.

Another point to keep in mind is that when your subject is looking off to the side, you want to position your subject so that it is looking into the space in the image like the first photo, and not out of the image like the photo below.

Rule of Thirds and Horizons.

The rule of thirds was originally created by artists to provide guidance for where the horizon should be in a landscape painting. When the horizon is in the middle of the image, the sky and land are equally important and the image feels boring and/or divided.

So they started using the rule of thirds to improve their composition and focus the viewer’s attention within the painting. When the horizon is on the top line, the land/sea is emphasized, and when the horizon is on the bottom line, the sky is emphasized.

#MindfulPhotoChallenge: Rule of Thirds

Photograph any subject of your choosing, and position your subject in your image according to the rule of thirds.

Try photographing your subject using all four power points. Does the image work best with a certain power point? Why do you think that is?

Bonus points if you use the rule of thirds for two or more elements in your photograph, like the example below! The truck and the trees take up the lower two thirds of the image, and the sky takes up the top third of the image. And the young man is positioned along a vertical rule of thirds line.

Share your images on Instagram with #mindfulphotochallenge and/or #RefocusPhotoChallenge, and tag me @ goodhartphotography.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like:

  • My full color 30-Day Photography Challenge Workbook here on Amazon.
  • My Photography Articles Listed and Sorted by Type here
  • My Mindful Photography Workshop here