Compositional Elements: Rule of Thirds

November 17, 2017  •  Leave a Comment


Kyle Cook




Melissa started the conversation about compositional elements with the idea of including circles in your photographs.  Please remember that you can't include ALL compositional elements into one image, but, you should look for examples of compositional elements when you are evaluating your scene to make your image.  


One such element is the Rule of Thirds.  The definition of the Rule of Thirds, generally, is:  The Rule of Thirds means placing your subject at the intersections of the guide lines of the grid in your viewfinder, and/or placing the horizon on the top or bottom line of the grid.  The grid divides your viewfinder into 9 equal sections, with 2 vertical lines, and 2 horizontal lines.


The photos below illustrate this concept.  Keep in mind, that, while it is called the Rule of Thirds, rules are often made to be broken.  It is also wise to KNOW the rules in order to be able to decide when or when NOT to break them! In these photos, I placed the subject or ground level in different intersections of the grid - or near those intersections.  Keep in mind, it's not always possible to place your subject perfectly at the intersection of the lines, but in general, split your screen into thirds, and do your best to place your subject of interest in one of those areas. Notice how in the pictures of the birds, below, the subject is placed, not in the center, but vertically on the third line.


This White-Breasted Nuthatch is facing to the left. Its tail feathers are aiming up and to the right. I wouldn't want to place this bird in the lower right hand or left hand corner.  It just wouldn't look right.  5J0A35615J0A3561



The Barn Swallow is looking to the left. I wouldn't want to place HIM on the left side so that he's looking out of the picture. I placed him on the lower right so he has room to look into the picture, not out of it.  (Another compositional element - sight lines, which we will explore in further detail later.)  5J0A39275J0A3927


5J0A53715J0A5371 The Phoebe was placed in the lower left hand corner because he was looking to the right.  Placing him there let him look INTO the picture, instead out out of it.


The same can be done with flowers.  They "look" into or out of pictures, oftentimes, and you can then make an image more dynamic by placing them in one corner or the other - either upper or lower, depending on which way the flower is "looking".  Sometimes, breaking the rule of thirds works with some subjects.



IMG_2849IMG_2849  I think it works with this little unidentified yellow flower found in the Everglades - it's round, fairly symmetrical, and it just seems to work, planted smack dab in the middle.



The Rule of Thirds also applies, as stated, to your horizon line.  Take the pictures below. The lighthouse image places the horizon on the bottom third of the picture. That works here because there is a lot of color and cloud interest in the sky, while there isn't much interest in the dark rocky coastline on the bottom. The pier image has the horizon level at the upper third of the picture. While there is color there, there is more interest in the layers of the waves than in the solid color of the sky. Then, the Orlando Wetlands image has the horizon smack in the center of the image. It works here because of the reflection. Normally, you want to place your horizon where it shows to best advantage the interesting parts of your image. 


IMG_1221IMG_1221 IMG_3394IMG_3394



Now, these photographs are an effort to illustrate the concept of placing your subject in the best possible position in your image. Sometimes, it will be on the thirds. Sometimes, you need to BREAK that rule and place it where you want it.  Just be aware of your compositional options and don't always place your subject smack dab in the middle of your picture!


We will be exploring more compositional elements in future blog posts, so stay tuned!



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