Composing Your Best Shot - Rule of Thirds

11:53:00 AM

As a photographer, I have gotten asked many questions over the years on how to improve photography, the most frequent being "What lens do you use?"  I understand that many people believe that a great picture is the product of having a good camera or a good lens, but that is far from the truth.  You can take a beautiful picture with the worst camera if you know how to focus the viewers attention.

Unfortunately, for all their advancements over the years, cameras don't come with an "Automatic Composition" button, and since there is really no right way or wrong way to compose a photograph, it's also one of the most difficult aspects of photography to learn.  Everyone sees the world differently and has their own style and vision.  What appeals to one person may not appeal to the next.

With that said, there are some general "rules" you can follow to help compose your picture.  Good composition will grab people's attention and tell them a story.  It will make them feel like they are there with you when you took the picture.  

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing with you my tips on composing a better photograph, whether it is a photograph of your kids, pets, day at the beach, or that next trip of a lifetime.  Today we will be talking about the Rule of Thirds.

In my opinion, the Rule of Thirds is one of the most important and useful composition techniques in all types of photography to create photographs that are more engaging and balanced.

If you look through your photographs, whether on your phone or your computer screen, more times than not your subject is placed smack-dab in the center, like this: 

Now, there is nothing wrong with this picture, it's perfectly fine and acceptable.  But it just looks like your average picture.  It's predictable.  If I apply the Rule of Thirds and move my daughter up and to the right a little bit, it becomes a visually stronger image:

So what is this Rule of Thirds?

 Imagine there is a tic-tac-toe board over the phone screen or in your viewfinder, dividing your image into 9 equal sections:

As you compose your photograph, move your point of interest over one of the intersecting points.  Try out different alignments and see which one you like the best.  Doing this also makes you slow down and think more carefully about your shot.

 If you have already taken your photograph, you can edit the picture applying the Rule of Thirds.  Take for instance my picture of this bee and flower.  Straight out of the camera, the flower is in the center of the picture.  Again, it's not a bad picture, but could stand to be a little more interesting.  

In my editing software (Lightroom!), I apply the Rule of Thirds while cropping...

...and place the center of the flower and bee in the lower right-hand corner.  

Why does this rule work?  It works because it places the most interesting subject in the photograph (in this case the flower and bee) and draws your focus to it by balancing it out with a large area of negative space.

Here are some more examples of images where I applied the Rule of Thirds in different ways to make them more visually interesting.

When photographing moving objects, it is best to place more space in front of them than behind to show what direction they are going in.

Over time you will develop your own feel for the Rule of Thirds and how you want to apply it to your own photographs.  It will become second nature to you.  So go ahead, experiment with the Rule of Thirds the next time you are out photographing something and see what a difference it makes to your composition!  And don't forget to share the results with me!

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