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This post was most recently updated on January 8th, 2023

When starting out on your photography journey, you may feel that there is so much to remember, and that it is hard to get all of the skills and techniques down at first.

The good news is that photography is a learning curve, and the more you do it, the better you will get at it. 

When it comes to photography, you can play around with techniques, settings and so much more to get different results, even when photographing the same subject matter. One of the many phrases you will have come across is the ‘Rule of Thirds’ .

The Rule of Thirds is an essential rule that you should always consider when taking your photographs as it can ensure that the image is visually arranged in a pleasing and high quality manner.

So, what exactly is the Rule of Thirds, and why is it important?

What Is The Rule Of Thirds?

The Rule of Thirds is all about the composition of your images. Composition is an essential and very important part of how you take photographs, and will ensure that you end up with a visually satisfying and perfect image in the end.

Composition is also vital in capturing engaging and creative images.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when taking photographs is placing their subject matter, or the person dead center in the middle of the frame. This makes the eye just stare at that center, and doesn’t draw the viewer into the photograph itself.

What the Rule of Thirds suggests is that you split your frame into three sections, or thirds. Think of your frame, and your images as a big tic tac toe board, with two vertical lines, and two horizontal lines.

What you will be left with is three boxes in each section. Are you still with me? If not, it should look a little like this:

rule of third

Now, once you have your grid, you should have 9 equal rectangles in front of you, with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines. What the Rule of Thirds suggests is that when you take a photograph, the focal point or the subject matter should sit just where those lines meet and intersect. 

In those sections, I have placed red lines instead of black to help demonstrate where the subject should be. Your subject should be on the lines of the grid, rather than inside of the boxes of the grid! 

By using this method, the Rule of Thirds, you are not placing the subject in the center frame of the image, and instead creating a focal point just off to one side.

This can help you create a sense of movement in the image, by drawing the eye in, and forcing the viewer to look at the sides of the image, not just at the center. 

This technique is perfect for creating more depth, and highlighting not only the subject by the background of your image.

For instance, if you were photographing a curving cobblestone street of a European town, you could draw attention up the road and past the buildings, creating a sense of movement and life in your image. 

For example, if you look at this image, the focal point could be the beautiful tree, and the tables and chairs of the courtyard.

But, instead of placing this in the center of the frame, it is pushed slightly to the side, allowing us to see the roads leading to other cottages and towards the town, and we see so much more life in this image. It can make the viewer ‘s imagination run wild! 

Photographers Use The Rule Of Thirds

So, why do photographers do this?

Why Do Photographers Use The Rule Of Thirds?

The Rule of Thirds may be the most widely known photography tactic, and it is probably one of the first you will need to learn to become a good photographer.

The Rule of Thirds is an effective way of creating a pleasing and interesting composition for your images.

You can add depth, meaning and more to your images by moving the subject or focal point to the left third or right third of the frame, to draw the eye inwards. 

You can also create visually interesting images, and more balanced looking images, even when the subject is on one side. For instance, you may have a long, winding highway through a desert.

The highway is the focal point, and placed to the left side of the frame, but on the right, you have the barren desert landscape, with the carcass of a tree, that brings compositional balance yet juxtaposition to the image, to make it more eye-catching. 

Photographers use the Rule of Thirds to create a sort of visual journey in the image. It brings dynamism to the photographs, and balances out empty space within the other thirds of the image. 

How To Use The Rule Of Thirds

The best way to use the Rule of Thirds is to place your subject matter on one intersecting line.

However, depending on the size of the subject, you may do this differently. With a very small subject, use the intersection of the grid, but if it is larger, then place it along one line of the grid instead.

If you have a person, or animal, and it’s line of vision is facing a certain way, then use this to have the empty space as what they are facing towards.

For instance if your subject is facing the left side of the frame, then have it here, on the green line shown below, as this will bring balance to your image. 

rule of thirds

In a similar way, if the subject is moving towards a certain direction, then have them on the opposite grid line. For example, if the subject is moving towards the right, then place them on the left of the frame to give them a sense of direction and movement, bringing the image to life.

You should also ensure that your images are straight. This means having the horizon of a landscape image aligned with the horizontal lines.

And vice versa, if you have a person or subject standing up in the frame, it should be parallel to the vertical lines to ensure that your image is framed and composed correctly.

Luckily, many digital cameras and DSLR cameras  have the option to add a Rule of Thirds grid to your screen to help you line up and compose your images.

Some smartphones also have this technology, where you can add a grid or lines to your screen when taking a photograph. It’s a really handy way of ensuring that all of your images are straight, and have a focal point that draws the eye in.

Should I Always Follow The Rule Of Thirds?

As a general rule of thumb, the Rule of Thirds should always be followed when taking your photographs.

However, if you want to be artistic and creative, then play around with symmetry, patterns and forced perspective, then you may not want to follow the Rule of Thirds. 

For instance, if you want to convey the perspective of rows of buildings either side, and a small road going down the middle, then you may not want it off center to bring shape and lines to your work.

This rule is there to help you compose your images, but it is not always 100% necessary.

The best thing about photography is being experimental, creative and doing it your way, so have fun with it and come up with your own original images!