The Rule of Thirds

Taking better photographs is the number one goal of any budding snapper. To this end, the art of improving your photography has had countless books, magazine features and website articles devoted to it, and as such it’s difficult to decipher which technique is best and, more importantly, would be best suited to improving your own photographs.

Altering an image after the shot, in what’s labelled ‘post processing’, is seen as a good option because it gives you more control over the final look of the image, and can serve to correct any errors at the moment of capture. However, there is no substitute for getting the shot right in camera, and one way to do this is to focus on composition.

Composition is as complex a subject as any photo processing technique, with various different interpretations on what makes strong composition. However, one rule that permeates different fields of photography, and one that has roots in classical art, is the rule of thirds.


The rule of thirds concerns the placement of objects within the frame, and involves dividing the frame into nine separate, equally sized sections through the intersections of lines placed a third of the way through the images both horizontally and vertically. The grid created by the intersecting lines is then used as a guide for placing the key elements in the shot to have the most impact.

While many photographic techniques and rules can be accused of being short-lived and fashionable, the rule of thirds is definitely not one of them. The idea of segregating the frame into separate thirds was first observed by landscape photographers in the early 19th century as a means of imparting order on their work and creating a pleasing dynamic within the frame.

While the horizontal lines serve as a good guide to the placing of a horizon, the vertical lines, and their interaction with the horizontal lines at the points of intercept, are also key to the rule. Arranging an image with a key component aligned to the intersecting points can create artistic tension and dynamism in the frame. The focus with the rule of thirds isn’t entirely to do with what you put on these lines and in the different sections, however, as there is also a large emphasis on negative space.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Rule of Thirds - Why it Works
  3. 3. Rule of Thirds - Using It
  4. 4. Rule of Thirds - Implementation
  5. 5. Rule of Thirds - Breaking the Rules
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