Rule of Thirds in Photography

Looking at your empty canvas, how will you capture your art? That's where the rule of thirds in photography will help. Learn all about the horizontal, vertical, and symmetrical photography rule of thirds as a general guideline to benefit you in creating interesting compositions.

As a budding artist, you will need to know this simple rule of thumb because it helps to not only create an interesting art composition, but it can help you guide your viewers around the painting (since it does not focus the composition on a single given point).

As a result, you will make it easier for audiences to understand what ideas you are trying to capture by anchoring ideas to key composition points. Whether on a landscape or portrait orientation, this rule can apply to any type of canvas.

The examples in this lesson have photographs taken from the Wikimedia Commons. These are award winning royalty-free photos that use the rule of thirds in photography very wisely. Take a step back, analyze, and apply what you are going to learn into your art because it is your responsibility as an artist to capture your ideas to your prospective audiences.

So don't skip out on this simple composition rule.

Setting up the design composition rule

The rule of thirds in photography is a very commonly used composition rule that is both effective and easy to learn. Whether it is photography, painting, or drawing, you will depend on this for any of your compositions. It just works.

This rule will require you to divide your picture plane into nine organized squares. That means separating the plane into thirds in both horizontal and vertical directions.

A lot of the times, you will be just eyeballing where the lines are. However, if you do require any type of measuring device, your digital at programs will always have a ruler that you can view.

rule of thirds in photography from

With these guidelines, you should not be placing important elements in the squares. Instead, you should be aligning your objects to the division lines. Basically, anything that you want the viewer to focus on, put it on one of those lines.

Sometimes, you may decide to use all of the lines. Other times, depending on your concept work, you may be only required to use only a few of the division lines.

The point is you need to make good judgement as how you want to use the horizontal and vertical placement lines. Does it sound difficult? Don't worry. That's what you are here to master.

Horizontal rule of thirds in photography

This particular photograph shows glaciers floating about. What is interesting about this particular composition is that there are no vertical elements or objects in it.

For the photographer, he or she decided to arrange it to show as much of the horizontal elements as possible.

Normally, the horizon can be composed on the lower part of the horizontal rule of thirds. Instead, the photographer moved the horizon to the upper third of the picture frame.

rule of thirds in photography: horizontal composition from

This allows the photographer to show the rocks he or she is standing on. In doing so, noticed that the rocks are also arranged to meet the second horizontal division lines.

So what does this mean for you as an artist or photographer? Well, if you are focused on vast landscapes, you can use this rule to place your starting horizon since it is the line that will determine all the perspective points of your composition.

The more you understand about perspective, horizon lines, and composing through it, the more credible you will look to your audience.

Vertical rule of thirds in photography

How about vertical compositions? When you have elements that stick out of the horizon line, it is important these objects will also need to adhere to this rule of thumb.

Look at the picture listed here to see the compositional unity this can offer you as an artist. Not only is the horizon situated on a division line, but the vertical elements are aligned cleanly on the vertical division lines in this picture.

Even with the huge man-made object at the foreground, its central pivoting point is within the rule of thirds as it intersects a vertical division line.

rule of thirds in photography: vertical composition from

You can see just what the photographer is thinking as he or she wants to create a unique composition that is interesting with the elements given in the picture.

With the rule of thirds, there are a lot of elements that can be placed within the composition that works in harmony rather than create dissonance (having one element overpower one another).

That means you should be able to create very complicated pieces of art without it having it look out of place. So long as it works with the rule of thirds, you can't go wrong.

Symmetrical rule of thirds in photography

Since this is only a rule of thumb, there are bound to be exceptions. Perhaps the biggest exception comes from elements that have symmetry. Some examples can include portraits, architecture, and reflections.

With the picture below, we get a glance at what the photographer is trying to do here. Instead of worrying about the rule, the photographer is deciding to centralize the entire composition.

rule of thirds in photography: symmetry from

This is due to the symmetrical nature of his or her subject. But you also notice one important factor: it is still using the rule of thirds for the floor levels.

That is, while the horizon line is dead center in the picture, you can see that the photographer still retains some of the rule of thirds in lining up the floor platforms where the escalators are located at.

As you can see, these three examples show the importance of the rule of thirds in photography have on compositional planning. It is interesting and it just works.

Always keep this rule of thumb in the back of your mind in any kind of visual arts that you decide to do. This is knowledge that will last a lifetime so be sure to use it often.

On any of the lessons that you will learn over the course of your learning, see how you can compose the objects into this rule while incorporating multiple different kinds of perspectives.