Guest Post: Rule of Thirds

Ever wondered how to get better photos?  Today I have a very special guest post, written by my husband, Todd.  He's going to share some basic composition tips in this blog post, originally written for his iPhotography group, called "AMPt."  You can check out Todd and the rest of the AMPt group at amptcommunity.com

Getting Started: Photo Basics > Composition > Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is the most widely known fundamental rule of composition. Knowing this rule will allow you to make informed decisions about where to place elements in your picture that will create more interesting images and direct the viewer to what you want them to see.

The rule of thirds works by splitting the picture plane into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. The grid (shown above) highlights four points where you will begin to place your subject/object. You can also use the lines of the grid to place the subject/object on, or to level your image.

Above is a screenshot of the viewfinder on a native iPhone camera with markings added to highlight the intersections. The grid can be turned on or off by tapping “options” at the top of the screen. The same feature can be turned on with most Android camera apps.

I have used the same object below in all of my images to help demonstrate the use of the rule of thirds, both incorrectly and correctly.
Figures 1 and 2 demonstrate an incorrect use of the rule of thirds by placing the subject matter directly in the center of the frame. The image feels static and allows little room for a second point of interest, keeping the viewer in one place. This is what you’re trying to avoid.

figure 1; figure 2

Figures 3 and 4 utilize the rule of thirds correctly and place the intersection of lines directly between the eyes of the skull. Research has shown that the viewer’s eye travels more frequently to the areas where the lines intersect, and can make the overall composition feel more natural and balanced. Another option would have been to place the intersection in one of the eye sockets.

figure 3; figure 4

In figures 5 and 6, I have also utilized the rule of thirds, but this time I’ve placed my object slightly lower on the picture plane and directly on the left vertical grid line. The image is now balanced from top to bottom and allows the opportunity for a second point of interest to the right, depending on the background.

figure 5; figure 6

Take multiple pictures to provide yourself with choices. Having a series of images that you can compare will put you in the place of the viewer and help you choose your best shot. Although it is not necessary to always use the rule of thirds, it is a rule of composition that every mobile photographer should know how to use. The old adage of practice makes perfect is true, and eventually using the rule of thirds will become second nature. Keep in mind, there’s not a filter in existence that can improve a poorly composed image.

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