The Rule of Thirds Really Does Work!

When it comes to composing our images – we are always looking for new ways and angles to capture things.  Often though, sometimes the traditional methods work too though.  In fact, I would venture to guess that if shown 100 pictures where the standard rules of composition were followed, and then 100 pictures where standard rules were deviated from, the former would have more shots that found a widespread appeal.  The rationale?  Standard rules usually will work – that’s why they are the standards.  Things like the Golden Mean, the Rule of Thirds, and Sunny 16 are all basic rules of composition and exposure, and if you want to ensure things “just work” – traditional rules really will work the majority of the time.

For the purposes of this post, I am going to talk about one of the most basic rules – the Rule of Thirds.  The Rule of Thirds (or ROT) basically says that if you divide your image area up into a grid, where the horizontal andvertical areas are divided equally into thirds – you will get cross-sections that define where your points of interest should be – often called hot points.  Here’s a diagram to help demonstrate:


So, here the frame is divided (roughly) into thirds both vertically and horizontally.  Where the lines intersect, I’ve created red circles to indicate the “hot points”.  These are your points of interest.  If all else fails, placing your subject matter in these areas (or close to them) will dramatically improve your composition.  Here’s a great example:


Here’s a shot of a carriage girl I took back in Charleston.  See where the cross-sections are?  I changed the color of the grid to make it easier to view – so you can tell that her eye is right on the marker for the right-most third grid line.  This really helps the composition that her eye is there instead of elsewhere (often times, there is a tendency to place the eyes closer to the center of the frame – resist that temptation to give your shots that extra oomph!).

In fact the ROT concept s such a well-known standard, the folks over at Adobe have incorporated that element into their crop tool – so that you can crop your images to adhere to this rule.  Since I will likely get someone to ask – you can create this ROT grid in other variants of Photoshop (CS family), but going to your application preferences and selecting the Grids, Guides, and Slices option.  In there, change your grid size to display lines every 33.3% and number of grids to 1.  Then choose a strong color so that when you display the grid – you can see it!  Click OK and you are done – from now on, to show the ROT grid when cropping or editing in the CS family – simply use the CMD/CTRL key and the apostrophe ( this doohickey  ‘   ) to toggle the grid on and off.  Here’s a capture of the area you need to make the changes:


There you have it – the Rule of Thirds grid – what it means and how to use it!  Any other rules of composition you would like explained?  Feel free to email, share your thoughts, ideas, suggestions and feedback in the comments or privately (if you rather would preserve anonymity).  In the meantime, go out, take some shots and practice visualizing that ROT grid in camera – that’s what will turn your snapshots into great shots!  Getting it right in camera!  Happy shooting and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

Please follow and like:

2 comments for “The Rule of Thirds Really Does Work!

  1. May 1, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Hey Jason

    You make great point. I know many that feel once they learn a rule they then do not have to go back to it. I was one for a while myself. But I have found that this rules are made for a reason. I try to use these most of the time. However as any rule sometimes the best image is made when you break them.

    The difference is knowing when and how. Stick to the rules unless it just does not work.

    I recently found your podcast and am liking it. Even though you use a Cannon.

    I live in Charleston SC area. Moved here last June (08). To bad I did not get meet you, before you left to the mountains.

    Nikon D-700

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *