Photography Quick Tip 3 ~ the Rule of Thirds in Composition

A well known photographer, Ernest Haas said, “The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference.  All of them can record what you are seeing.  But, you have to SEE.”

Each photographer gets to choose the elements included in a photograph as well as those that are made less important or excluded. During the Renaissance, painters created a simple formula for helping the viewer to focus on the main subject of a painting while at the same time allowing their eyes to wander around it.  They discovered that a person does not simply stop and look at the centre of a painting but is generally curious about everything that is within the frame.

Photographers use the Rule of Thirds to help draw attention to the centre of interest, focal point, or main subject of their image.

Imagine a grid of two horizontal and vertical lines, equal distance apart…like tic tac toe…and notice the four points where these lines intersect. Studies have shown that the human eye naturally sees the area of one of these intersecting points before moving through other parts of an image.

Thinking about the composition of a photograph before you press the shutter can make your images more appealing. When you’re looking through the viewfinder to set up your picture, take a moment to think about what makes the strongest element in the scene and place it on one of the locations where the horizontal and vertical lines meet.

the dock placed in the centre of this photograph is not nearly as pleasing to the eye as in the location in the image below

the dock placed in the upper right allows the eyes to notice it first and then wander through the rest of the scene

Of course, this is not a fixed rule but rather a guideline to help image makers.

Each photographer will use their own creative expression in choosing the composition.  However, if you’ve always been placing your main subject in the middle of the frame, give the Rule of Thirds a try and you may develop stronger images that your viewers will enjoy.

Below are two images of pears.  In the first, I placed the pears in the middle of the frame.  It is definitely pleasing to the eye.  But, take a look at the photograph below it.  By giving the pears more space within the frame on the right and placing the focal point on the left, the image is stronger and allows the viewer to take their time and explore the image.

the pears are centered in this image


the pears are placed in this composition using the Rule of Thirds

“My theory of composition?  Simple: do not release the shutter until everything in the viewfinder feels just right.” Ernest Haas


If you would like to see more of my photographs, check out my Fine Art America Website.

Art Prints

If you’d like more information about  Fine Art America, click on the link below.


Artist Websites

74 thoughts on “Photography Quick Tip 3 ~ the Rule of Thirds in Composition

  1. Ernest Haas said, “The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But, you have to SEE.”
    Ahhh that is a wise, wise quote. I will repeat this when I hear someone say “You take awesome pictures, you must have a nice camera.”

  2. Thanks for the instructions and wonderful image comparison. I have been reading about the rule of thirds and been trying to improve my photography. Great tips. Have a good weekend! 🙂

  3. that’s knew to me. although i am not that addict to photography, i am frustrated to engage in one. when i take pictures, i always center my subject. maybe i could try your tip for a change and see how it really works.

  4. LOL … my lovely digital camera has these guideline in the viewer on the back but I never really understood what it wanted me to do with them! Thanks for the simple straightforward explaination. I’m sure my future photo will be more intriguing for it.

  5. Pingback: For Rookie Photographers: Rule of Thirds (via Everything Neat) | Literating

  6. Ah, I’ve had this rule so ingrained into my consciousness that I now see in terms of photographic composition (rule of thirds and depth of field). It’s actually quite irritating, but at least it makes my photos better.

  7. visit da forum helped me learn many interesting things, hoping that there would be more ideas or more for people learning

  8. I enjoyed seeing the illustrations you put in to show the rule of thirds at work. i came across the rule a couple of months ago but the clear and vivid photos you posted will help me remember it all the better.

  9. Excellent post! I am a constant advocate for using the rule of thirds. Our agency just recently hired a NEW graphics expert. The new expert said, “Nobody uses the rules of thirds anymore!” She stated that this is what she learned as a new graduate from her professor. I took her to her office and reviewed each and every book cover, poster on her wall, brochure on her desk, magazine spread in her office and challenged her to find one that did not use the rule of thirds at least a little. Between the two of us we found none. She now avidly uses the rules of thirds again and has forgotten her old professors name.

  10. Simple, well-written and well-illustrated explanation of the Rule of Thirds. Congrats on the front page feature – this definitely deserves it!

  11. Good to know rules…which sounds similar for other types of art work compositions. I haven’t examined my photos too closely and my blogs aren’t even photography focused at all.

    But also good to know when to break rules for composition.

  12. Pingback: Photography Quick Tip 3 ~ the Rule of Thirds in Composition (via Everything Neat) «

  13. Think about where the object is “going”, not where it “is.” The pears in the picture are growing toward the outside, so you give more room to that side. Thanks for posting this!

  14. Thanks for a helpful tip and a great example to illustrate the differences just a little tweak like that can make.

  15. Very good indeed! I’ve worked with many photographers and indeed the best ones know this rule (though there are exceptions). I personally love applying it to portraits of people!

    Also for portraits: blur the background (low aperature)

    Step back and zoom in (wide angle distorts the face, creates big nose, etc.)

    Use a soft, flattering light (unless you want shadows for guys) – ie reflector (even a car shade below the face can suffice!), and or shoot in sunset, and/or use a fill-in flash (especially if backlit)

  16. I think this is one of the easiest and most basic things to learn in the evergrowing list of photography rules (whether it be the list to follow or break). 🙂 I remember it was one of the first concepts taught to me in my highschool photography class, as well as one of the first I taught to my young photography campers.

  17. I also learned that the viewers eye is drawn to the brightest areas of the photo,Along with the rule of thirds, this a useful rule to apply.

  18. i can see how using these rules of composition can make for better photo’s as well as using the other basic elements and principals that are relevant across the board when it comes to visual art. but surely the quality of the camera does have something to do with good photography, depending on the effect your going for, and certainly depending on the skills of the photographer.

  19. Pingback: qotd | white pebble

  20. So true. I’ve never realized that. If I ever decide to pick a camera up again I will be sure to remember the Rule of Thirds.

  21. So simply and clearly explained!!

    thank you for the useful tip…will surely try it out the next time 🙂

  22. Might I note that this rule applies not only for photography, but blogs, graphics and a variety of visual potpourri.
    Thank you. I finally understand the rule clearly.

  23. I took a quick weekend course on how to use my camera, and the instructor emphasized this. Also, on my camera I can turn on those gridlines, and it’s a very helpful feature. It still feels odd while I’m doing it to place things off center, but I find my strongest photos follow the rule of thirds. It works.

  24. I don’t know anything about photography, although I love taking pictures in a non-professional way – but this post is so interesting and explains in a very simple way a very useful tip! Thank you!

  25. I’ve heard and read about this tip several times before and tried to use this tip several times but I still don’t think I can take good shots. I can create great looking interior spaces but somehow cropping them in a frame is quite hard to do. I guess it’s the stubbornness in me. Hehe..

  26. Pingback: De regel van derden « Lobstertje

  27. I’m a big believer in the rules of third. It’s amazing how just moving your lens just a little can make such an impact on your end image. Good tutorial.

  28. Great article note that this rule applies not only for photography Thanks for such a simple and useful tip! Great post Photography Quick Tip 3 ~ the Rule of Thirds in Composition

  29. Good post. My own opinion is that the rule of thirds is overrated. I don’t think that it does produce better compositions and can be boring if it is kept to slavishly. Nice to see that you included two photos with and without the rule.

  30. Pingback: What Would Stephen Dedalus Do? « A Little Tour in Yellow

  31. Pingback: Photography Quick Tip 3 ~ the Rule of Thirds in Composition (via Everything Neat) « View From The Doghouse

  32. Also, on my camera I can turn on those gridlines, and it’s a very helpful feature. It still feels odd while I’m doing it to place things off center, but I find my strongest photos follow the rule of thirds. It works.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s