Monday Photography Tip: Rule of Thirds

Better late than never on the post today (tonight)!  I apologize for my tardiness in getting this posted!

Tonight’s photography tip deals with composition.   Composition is how and where you place the subject you are photographing.  The composition can make or break a picture.

Look at this picture of a Senior I photographed last year, named Marc.  (Marc was a fantastic subject to photograph.  He was very relaxed and very photogenic.)While it wasn’t a favorite photograph of his or mine, I picked the photo below to illustrate today’s tip.

As you can see, Marc is almost smack-dab in the middle of the picture.  His expression is fine (although, you can tell the sun was still a little harsh when we first started shooting that day) and, in fact, the picture is okay.  But it’s not much more than okay…it’s sort of blah.  Nothing to write home about.

So, how do you improve a shot like that?  Well, you use the Rule of Thirds, that’s how!   Heard of it?

Basically, you divide a picture into thirds.  (You can see very vague lines running through the picture of Marc, above.)

When looking through your viewfinder on your camera, divide your subject by thirds, mentally.  Placing your subject in the very middle of the picture is fine, but sort of boring (unless you are completely filling your frame with the subject, but that’s another tip for another day). 

Recomposing–or, moving the subject and/or camera–ever so slightly makes a world of difference. 

Here’s the same picture, but cropped.  I cropped off some of the photo on the right.  It created a completely different photo, by “moving” Marc from dead center, to the right third of the picture.  I do believe the crop improves the shot considerably.

(The crop also brought Marc in a little closer, which happens to be a good thing.  But, the point is to show how much more appealing a photo looks when you follow the Rule of Thirds.)  I like to apply the Rule of Thirds when actually taking the picture, but sometimes, like in the case shown above, the changes need to be made in post-production.

I’ve used the Rule of Thirds in a number photos I’ve posted on this blog in the past:

Remember those?  You can see the main objects, the blades on these cotton strippers, are resting in the bottom third of the picture. 

Or, below.  Remember when I posted this shot of our local high school’s head coach? 

I focused on his head/headset, but composed the shot so I could get the football players in the background.  They are out of focus, on purpose.  But, consider the picture had I taken the photo of  just the back of his head without the football players in the background.  Borrrinnnng.  All you would have seen was the back of a slightly bald head (sorry Coach!) with a headset on it.  (Place your hand over the right third of the picture to see what I mean. )

By positioning him to the left third of the frame and allowing the camera to capture the players in the background it tells a completely different story.  It’s more interesting, if you ask me.

Or, this:

(You don’t see bluebonnets and snow very often, do you?  I took that picture on a very bizarre weather day in Spring 2007….)  The bluebonnet picture has a little more interest because of the composition.  It would have been fine to have a shot of just the single bluebonnet, straight on, but the shot above creates a little more visual interest.

Notice below that the flowers are nearly in the center, but not quite.  They fill more of the left two-thirds of the picture. 

You get the idea.

BUT, please remember this:  you can break this rule at any time.  Honestly.  Its just a great guideline or suggestion to keep in mind as you take pictures. 

So, get out there and practice using the Rule of Thirds when composing your shots.  Get used to using the rule; train your brain and eye to see it.  Then, once you’ve gotten used to it, break the rule and try something completely different!

Happy shooting!



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