Photography Tips Composition - Rule of Thirds
Image © Randy McKown

The rule of thirds is a guideline which applies to the process of photography composition. This guideline suggests that the scene should be divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines. The primary elements, or subject, should then be placed along these lines or near a point where they intersect.

The term “rule of thirds” was coined over 200 years ago but its use can be seen dating much farther back in history, helping make it one of the most known techniques in the art of photography. Composing your scene and its primary elements using the rule of thirds will help you create a far more interesting photography composition, opposed to simply placing the subject right in the middle of the frame.

Photography Tips Composition - Rule of Thirds
Image © Randy McKown

Following the Rule of Thirds

In the image above you can see that the buzzard is placed directly over a point where two lines intersect. The top third of the frame is filled with sky. The lower third of the image is filled with darkness. The middle third contains the detail of the scene, which tells the viewer that the bird is sitting on an old farmers fence. It’s perfectly clear that when I shot this image I was thinking about the rule of thirds.

The photography composition that you choose for an image and how you use it helps tell it’s story. This image is all about the unknown and I knew the rule of thirds was how I wanted to emphasize that. I shot this as a silhouette because I didn’t want my viewer to be distracted by the physical details of the scene. I wanted to emphasize the feeling of not knowing and make the viewer ask questions.

What do we have? A bird of death which clearly represents the unknown. The subject is placed not on the right but on the left looking into the frame. This forces the viewer to start at the subject and then pulls their attention into the scene. What is the bird looking at? What lies in the darkness of the frame? What lies on the other side of the frame? You have no idea so it forces you to use your imagination. (spoiler alert – it was staring at a group of cows surrounding another cow that was dying – it was looking at dinner)

Using the Rule of Thirds in Photography Composition

Knowing something and actually doing it are two completely different things. If you want to grow as a photographer, you have to put your knowledge into practice. Think of ways you can use this technique. Do you like photographing people? Next time try placing them around a third of the frame instead of in the middle. Maybe you like close-up portraits that fill the frame. If so, use the rule of thirds by placing the eyes along the top third.

You can also use the rule of thirds in landscape photography. Try dropping that horizon to meet the line of the bottom third. Look for subjects and other elements in the scene that could be focused on using an intersecting point. Use your imagination.

The rule of thirds is a pretty easy method that can be used a million different ways. So, now that you’re armed with a new technique for photography composition, go out and have fun using the rule of thirds.