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Monday, December 10, 2018

Is the Rule of Thirds Really a Photography Rule?

The “rule of thirds” is a concept that you’ll find in a lot of Intro to Photography books and guides. The idea is that you imagine a grid that divides your composition into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, like this. (Although some cameras will now overlay a grid for you).

Supposedly, a strong composition is one where the important elements sit as close to the intersection of the thirds, or the third-lines, as possible because that’s where a viewer’s eyes are naturally drawn. Here’s that photo without the lines.

Yeah, it’s a pretty good photo. The skier and the main mountain peak are both on the first vertical third-line, each sitting at an intersection with the second horizontal third-line. The second mountain peak sits nicely on the second vertical third-line close to an intersection. So, is it a good photo because it fits the rule of thirds so well? Let’s find out.

The Problems With the Rule of Thirds

Alright, the answer is no. The rule of thirds is actually a pretty weak compositional guideline. It does more to stop you making bad mistakes than guide you to making strong compositions.

There is a lot more to good composition than just placing the main parts of your image at arbitrary points on a grid. Things like contrast, color, leading lines, and people’s faces—and especially their eyes—all direct where someone will look.

Another big problem is that you can kind of slap a thirds grid over the top of almost any image and find important parts that sit under one of the third lines. Like this image.

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