Is the Rule of Thirds a Bunch of Mumbo Jumbo?

Posted on 26 September 2018


What is the Rule of Thirds? Picture drawing the lines for a game of tic-tac-toe on your viewfinder. Now your composition is divided into thirds both vertically and horizontally and you have an image divided into threes both vertically and horizontally.

The Rule of Thirds, one of the best known compositional strategies, says that the most visually appealing and engaging pictures are those that have the subject in either the left or right third or especially in one of the “power points,” where the lines intersect.

Imagine drawing a game of tic-tac-toe on the image below. You’ll notice that the two race cars are on two power points: where the bottom and left lines intersect and where the top and right line intersect.

Pictures that follow the Rule of Thirds convey tension and energy. They fulfill our natural desire for order, and provide a sense of balance that allows the eye to wander about the composition with ease.

Pictures with off-center compositions looks far more natural than those where the subject is right in the middle of the frame. Think of it like covering up your work and turning yourself into a fly on the wall.  

Placing an object in either the left or right third of your composition provides an anchor, a focal point from which the eye can travel through the rest of the picture. Imagine the two pictures below if the tree or telephone poles were in the center of the frame. The image would feel split in half, divided.

It’s not really a rule, you know. The Rule of Thirds is just another tool in your toolbelt, another weapon in your arsenal, that can be used if and when it’s advantageous to do so. And when you forget to follow the Rule of Thirds while you’re shooting, you can always come back to the picture and play with the cropping to position it where you want.

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