Break the Rules: Rule of Thirds

You have probably already heard of the rule of thirds before.  If not, you may have wondered why cameras (including your phone camera) often have visual guides that divide the image into thirds.  These dividing lines run horizontally and vertically creating a grid made up of nine even blocks.

Rule of thirds Comparison
Rule of thirds example

The rule of thirds is a tool to help create visually pleasing compositions.  While it’s hugely popular in photography, it can also be applied to any form of image creation or manipulation, and we’re going to have a look at how to apply it.

It’s essentially a more digestible rendition of the ominous ‘golden ratio’.  The golden ratio is an ancient mathematical pattern, often called the Fibonacci Sequence, which occurs organically in nature.  It’s said to be automatically visually appealing to people through their subconscious exposure to the pattern on a regular basis.  It’s often used in photography, logo design, web design, illustration, fine art and more, using mathematical equations to create a set of grid lines.  If you haven’t gathered, this topic can get pretty in depth, and even after reading an entire book on the topic, we still struggle to fully use it in out work.  That’s where the rule of thirds comes into play. It’s much simpler to understand and apply, and gives a comparable effect.

Focal Point
Rule of thirds applied

It’s said that having a focal point in a photo or artwork that’s perfectly centered is a no-no.  While this can sometimes be used intentionally, it generally gives the work a sense of monotony and blandness.  Your focal point should rather be put on, or near to, one of the four intersecting points of the thirds grid.  So, it will either be towards the top or bottom right, or top or bottom left of your composition.  It will instantly create an asymmetrical composition/layout making the work a lot more interesting to look it.

Having strong visual lines such as a horizon, or building wall fall directly onto one of the dividing lines will also lend itself to a sturdy foundation for your work.

Rules are meant to be broken, and the rule of thirds definitely won’t be the solution to every tricky composition, but it’s a useful piece of knowledge to have available, and often comes in handy when you least expect it.

More examples of rule of thirds

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