let’s learn composition | rule of thirds

learning how to compose photographs - the rule of thirds

I loved teaching my photography walk-shops when I was in London and I always felt the attendees got a real understanding for getting onto manual, but there are so many composition rules that exist that they sometimes got buried under by technical questions. With so many posts about ISO, aperture and shutter speed along with everything else (which are of course incredibly useful) I think the idea of what we are capturing sometimes loses weight. I even find myself often overthinking the technical and not getting a beautifully composed image. With this ‘series’ I don’t want to give technical blow by blow but some examples and tips.

As I mentioned a couple weeks back composition helps us to highlight our subject. When rules aren’t followed the subject might have to compete for attention with other items in the frame therefore diminishing the ‘quality’ of your picture. Obviously rules are also meant to be broken but knowing the rules means you can be intentional about breaking them.

I’ll start with the rule of thirds because that is probably the one that everyone has heard about. Put simply the rule of thirds breaks your picture up with two horizontal lines and two vertical lines and then your task is to use those lines to highlight your subject. That can mean placing your subject on an intersection point or breaking up your picture into the thirds (most often seen with landscapes)

Let’s look at some pictures…


Rule of thirds - portraits Considering the rules of thirds - portraits rule-of-thirds-6-mycreative

When shooting portraits bear these points in mind:

  • Place the eyes on (or near) one of the lines and an intersection as possible. If you are shooting faces the eyes should be the focal point as, you know, eyes are the windows to the soul and all.
  • If the subject is placed in a segment of the frame and looking to the side they should look to the side which has more space. When the subject looks immediately off to the side it leaves the viewer anxious, wondering what they are looking at.


rule-of-thirds-7-mycreative rule-of-thirds-4-mycreative rule-of-thirds-2-mycreative

For objects it is important to consider what your actual focus point is going to be. Will it be the spoon or the watermelon? Which part of the picture do you want to highlight. In the third image because it is a flat plane and therefore everything is in focus the segments are used (as in landscape).



The main point to remember when using the rule of thirds for landscape is what you want to highlight or capture. What has the most interesting texture – the sky or the land? Also bear in mind if there is a specific ‘something’ in the landscape that you want to highlight.

Breaking the rules

Of course you don’t always have to follow this rule. Perhaps it is the symmetry of the image that you want to capture instead. Or place your subject in the middle or somewhere else altogether if you feel. Just be intentional about what it is you want to do.

Challenge time!

Take a look at some pictures that you have pinned and see if you can see how the rule of thirds has been used. Examine some of your own pictures and see if you naturally capture some images this way already, you might be surprised.

Then take some pictures to practise the rule. Take photos of a person, an object and a landscape using the rule of thirds.

If you would like share a link to the images (wherever they may be – flickr, instagram, your blog, google+ etc). I will choose a handful to provide feeback over on my Facebook page.

I’d love to know if you find this type of post helpful and if you would like to see more.

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