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Rule of thirds

Created date

April 22nd, 2014
photo with grid marks
photo with grid marks

One of the basic guidelines for creating strong compositions in the visual arts is the rule of thirds. Imagine two horizontal lines and two vertical lines dissecting a photograph like a tic-tac-toe grid. Place important compositional elements on the horizontal or vertical lines, or the points where they intersect, to make a photograph more interesting, more pleasing. Photographers call the intersection of the lines power points. 

Some cameras display the rule of thirds grid as an overlay on the viewfinder or LCD screen. The grid lines are also useful in helping you keep your camera level. More than likely, your camera has a control to turn the grid overlay off and on. 

How it works

Photographs are often more effective when subjects like trees or lighthouses are placed on or near one of the vertical lines. It’s best to place a landscape horizon on or near one of the horizontal lines, rather than in the center of the frame. If you are emphasizing the land or foreground of a scene, place the horizon on the upper line of the grid. If you want to draw attention to the sky, place the horizon on the lower horizontal line. You may be surprised to discover how this makes a stronger composition of your photo.  

If you are shooting a portrait, whether horizontal or vertical, try placing the subject’s eyes on the upper horizontal line of the grid. Because a person’s eyes are often the most compelling feature of the face, place one of the eyes on a power point to command the attention of the viewer. 

The rule of thirds is not a hard-and-fast rule and it’s often broken. The next time you’re taking a photograph, shoot the subject off-center instead of in the middle of the frame. The idea is to have most of the important parts of a photo along these horizontal or vertical lines—better yet, on a power point. Think of the grid as a tool—a useful starting point to understanding what makes high-quality compositions.  Even if you don’t have a visible rule of thirds grid, try to employ the concept to create more pleasing pictures.