The Rule of Thirds and When To Break It
As a junior varsity amateur photographer (who is sometimes on the bench), I love reading tips and tricks to up my photo skills. The "Rule of Thirds" is a photo, art, and design concept that has been around for centuries and is consistently referenced in "how to take better pictures" articles. This, coupled with the need to take quality, beautiful photos for social media content, means I want to know more.
So let's dive in.
The first written definition of the rule was penned by John Thomas Smith in 1797. It reads, in part:
If you got through that, bravo. I am a visual learner, however, so I need to see it to understand it.
You may have noticed that your digital camera and phone camera have the ability to show a grid across the screen while you are snapping pics. This grid divides the shot into 9 equal parts, or thirds. It looks similar to this:
Make it a habit to always show this grid on whichever camera you are using to help you refine this technique and remind you how to line up your shot.
So, what's the deal with this "rule" and why does it work? In essence, if your subject is in the middle of the shot, it looks static. If your subject is closer to one of the edges, then your eye is forced to follow it, which means your eye lingers on the photo longer. It gives the illusion of movement and a story.
Place the focal point of the image on one of the intersections (illustrated by the blue dots above), and if applicable, a second focal point (or counterpoint) diagonally opposite to the first point. Take a look:
In the above photo, the lifeguard tower is lined up with the left third, and the stairs lead the eye to the right third, which is lined up with the shore break.
Speaking of horizontal lines (typically the horizon), always line it up across the top third or bottom third. Again, this principle creates movement, interest, and context behind a snapshot of a moment.
So when do you break the rules?
Understanding of a rule is the best way to know how to break it. If you aim to create balance in a photo, then obviously the focal point should be centered. Portraits can also benefit from balance, especially when combined with depth of field.
If you're going to take a portrait photo with the subject centered, make sure they are looking off into the distance and not directly at the camera. This helps create that feeling of a story as the viewer wonders what they are looking at.
This rule also applies when you are creating your custom graphics and/or using stock photography.
Now that you know more about the Rule of Thirds - get to snapping! I would love to hear your thoughts and any tips and tricks that work for you.
Tag me on Instagram when you have your Rule of Thirds eye down!