The rule of thirds is a compositional rule of thumb in visual arts such as painting, photography and design. The rule states that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. (From Wikipedia.)
I try to follow the Rule of Thirds when I’m composing in camera, rather than shooting and then cropping later to apply the rule. I accomplish this by selecting my camera’s focus point, instead of focusing and recomposing — or worse! — having the camera select the focus point. (Don’t know how to do select the focus point? Go find your manual!) Looking through my own images, it’s obvious I have a little love affair with the camera-right focal points.
I’m trying to move away from that and compose in different ways while still adhering to the Rule of Thirds. So how do you know if your image follows the rule? Any easy way to check in Photoshop is to display gridlines, and then crop if necessary. (If you use Lightroom the crop tool automatically displays rule-of-third gridlines. Handy.)
(Setting up the guideline rules is a little trick I read about on Pioneer Woman photography … )
Open your image in Photoshop. Go to Edit >> Preferences >> Guides, Grid and Slices …
Set the gridlines to display every 33.33% of the image …
Below is an image with the gridlines displayed. (Also, just to note in case it isn’t clear, these are screenshots. The gridlines don’t show up on your final image — they’re just a visual tool.) See how her eye falls right along one of the vertical lines? That’s good. It would be even better if the top horizontal line and the right vertical line intersected where her eye is, but this is close enough. When something falls on an intersection it can be more powerful, visually. Personally, I also like how the majority of her face fits in one section. (I almost said quadrant, but quadrant is four … ninerant?)
Below is another example of the face filling one of the nine sections. It is also an example of leaving room in the frame for the subject to go. If the composition were flipped (Quinn on the far right with negative space on the left), it wouldn’t work, because he’d be “leaving” the frame. This also comes into play when the subject is looking off camera. You want to make sure that they have “somewhere” to look.
The image below of my niece Elizabeth is an example of using the horizontal thirds, rather than the vertical thirds of the image, to divide up the visual interest of the image.
A few more examples of images that comply with the Rule of Thirds …
This was actually challenging for me to write about, because I just do it now without thinking about it, but I remember when I first learned about it (and especially when I first learned that I should be moving my focus points rather than moving my camera), it was like DING! So, I hope it was helpful to some of you! And it should also be said that like with most rules, there are times to break it.