Photo Composition: The Rule Of Thirds

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This post is not intended for experienced photographers, and a number of my experienced photographer friends follow this blog.  Thank you for that.  Rather, this post is intended for “newbie” photographers who want to improve their photographic output.  I have quite a few blog followers who fall into this later category too.  We all go through a learning curve.

This is a Print Screen Save image from Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 (PSE11).  Clicking on the image will allow you to see the Rule of Thirds overlay grid better.  I took this photo of a reclining Jaguar in Colombia about two months ago.

So what is the Rule of Thirds?  Basically it is a rule of composition.  Composition is the process whereby we present our image to the viewer to its best advantage.  The Rule of Thirds originated with artists hundreds of years ago, and has translated nicely to the world of photography.  If you are interested in the history of the Rule of Thirds, and a detailed explanation of why it works so well, I recommend that you Google it in your spare time (there is a plethora of information about it online).

Composition is the third building block of an acceptable photographic image.  First comes focus, the image must be in focus and “tack-sharp.”  Second is exposure, the image must be properly exposed (this is a function of shutter speed, aperture and ISO.  Finally, the image must be well composed.  And this is where the Rule of Thirds comes in.

By clicking on the image you will be able to see the Rule of Thirds overlay grid.  Simply stated the grid is nothing more than a four-sided rectangle divided into thirds (creating nine separate boxes).  The Rule of Thirds suggests that the focal point of the image should fall upon one of the intersections of those gridlines (where the vertical and horizontal lines intersect).  And, as a general rule, the horizon should never (there are exceptions of course) be dead center in the frame, place it on the lower horizontal line to show more sky (interesting skies like storms or dramatic cloud formations), and on the upper horizontal line to show more foreground (oceans, lakes or sprawling fields).  You should always know the rules before you break them.

Looking at my Jaguar photo, I determined my horizon should be the plane on which my subject was resting (in this case some nice comfortable rocks); the main focal point should be the Jaguar’s face and head.  Enlarging the image you will see that the rocks fall approximately on the lower horizontal gridline, the lower 1/3 of the frame, and that the vertical/horizontal intersection approximately locates the Jaguar’s face and head in the upper 1/3 of the frame.  This is the Rule of Thirds in practice.

Like horizons, rarely do you want to place your focal point dead center in the frame (this is a “newbie” mistake).  Again, for the ba-zillionth time, there are exceptions to every rule, but learn the rule(s) first.  It will make you a much better photographer.  Whether you use Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Elements for your photo-editing, there are composition aides available to help you (also Google is your friend, every question you’ve ever had about photography can be answered on Google).  For you Photoshop and Photoshop Elements folks here is a quick workflow:  go to Crop Photo > Crop Box Size dropdown and select No Restriction, Use Photo Ratio, 16×9 inches, 2.5×2 inches, 3×5 inches, 4×6 inches, 5×5 inches, 5×7 inches or 8×10 inches for your crop size.  Now select the Overlay dropdown and select No Overlay, Rule of Thirds, Grid or Golden Ratio overlay.

I hope this helps.  Enjoy your photography, never stop learning and have fun.  Now go out and shoot something (with your camera of course).

WB IMG_2747

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer and World Traveler

Quito, Ecuador


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