Rules. They Involve Thirds.

Before I joined the Army, I took awful photographs. Every now and then, I would get lucky with one. But, for the most part, they just sucked.

So, when I learned about the rule of thirds, it was like some epiphany. My photos got ten times better by just using that rule alone! When I saw Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge this week was Rule of Thirds, I figured I had to find time to play. I love her line, “Any experienced photographer will tell you that the Rule of Thirds is perhaps the most essential of rules, but they probably can’t tell you WHY it works. The truth is that we don’t know, but it just does.” You are so right Cee! I remember learning about the thirds in photography training, but I can’t recall any discussion on why? Maybe they did and I just don’t remember. Either way, like you said, it works so who cares why.

For my selection, I was going to go with a series I shot recently. After thinking about it more though, I decided showing a variety of shots that employ the rule of thirds would be more useful. There is a mix of new shots and previously posted shots below to help show the point.

First, I will start with photographing people.

Whether it is one or more, the rule of thirds helps tell the story. It frames the subject in an environment, which helps the tone and mood of the shot. It is not just the people who are in the thirds too. Sometimes, the objects in the setting can work into the thirds as well. For example, in the beach photo, the boat is in the right vertical third and the middle horizontal third of the photo.

For landscapes, the rule of thirds can help make your photos more dramatic and powerful. In each of these shots below, you can see a use of the rule. Sometimes you can pick a focal point or main object and put that into one of the third sectors. Or, you can just frame the main landscape horizon along one of those lines.

For animals, the rule also applies. You can either frame the animal’s face or entire body within the thirds, or you can take an item on them as the focal point. Like in the shot of the pony, his saddle horn is in the upper, left third. It tends to be a bit harder with animals though I admit. They seem to move around a lot and I can’t always frame them properly AND get them in focus. Like in my Simba cat picture, I cut his ear off a bit in the shot because it was a quick moment to catch. Yeah sure, he looks calm in the shot, but as soon as I took one picture, he moved. Go figure. So, I was happy to have caught the moment and get him mostly in the thirds. For the bird, I would have preferred to put him in the upper right third. That way, he would not look like he was flying out of the frame. However, I shot what I could and was happy I got something somewhat in focus. Now, for the giraffe, that was just lucky shooting from a few years of Army training! Not sure I could capture that again if I tried.

When shooting flowers, plants and bugs, the rule of thirds provides impact as well. Like in landscapes, it gives your main subject a setting. By putting your focal point in the thirds, it creates a more compelling photo. Imagine the photos below where the creature of flower is in the dead center. Would the photo still have the same appeal? (Assuming it appeals to you in the first place?)

Basically, no matter what you are shooting, you can use the rule of thirds. I don’t really think about it anymore. I just shoot. However, there are times when I could do a better job with my framing if I would just slow down. Like in the merry-g0-round pole shot below. I had to crop it some as the pole was not straight in my original shot. Or, I could have moved it over a bit more to the left, maybe showing some blurred space on the right? That is the thing, once the moment is gone, you can second guess your shots a lot. So I say, just shoot and shoot and shoot, but slow down and think about your framing. Using the rule of thirds is one power tool.

If you haven’t seen Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge, make sure you click on the badge below. It is a new challenge and tons of fun that also can help you learn. (She also hosts a number of other challenges!) Though I originally learned about the thirds from the Army, Cee’s challenge this week reminded me of its power. She also helped me learn by writing this, it is a rule that works on any photo subject. Thanks Cee!



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