The Rule of Thirds | A Photographer’s Education

When we took our first photography class, this rule: The Rule of Thirds, was literally the first thing we learned (after camera settings of course). But here’s the thing, rules are definitely meant to be broken so this isn’t a rule we live by in every single photo. Although it certainly helps photos be interesting, dynamic, and appealing to the eye.

The best part is that anyone can use this rule! Whether you’re using an iPhone, a DSLR, or shooting video this rule works. Basically when you look at a shot you’re about to take, dissect the screen with 4 lines, putting your photo into thirds from left to right and top to bottom. Where the lines intersect are where you should place something in your shot. Studies show that your eyes go to these 4 intersections more than the middle of a photo.

For example, look at the photo below of me smack dab in the middle of the shot. The good thing about Erik’s shot below is that he actually has interesting things happening in the right, left, and top thirds of this photo (he’s good even when he’s trying not to be!), which saves the photo by allowing your eye to move around.


In this next shot Erik used the rule of thirds and placed me right along the line, which gives more movement to the photo, letting your eyes travel from me to the scenery on the left and back.


Here are a few more examples.


These next two hand shots show that you can either use the rule of thirds from right to left, like in the first photo. See how their hands are on the intersecting top right corner and their bodies are mostly to the right?


Or you can use the rule of thirds from top to bottom, like in this next photo. Each body is placed in the side thirds, but their hands are in the top third.


Rules are meant to be broken though, right? These next two shots were taken within seconds of each other for different purposes. The first uses the rule of thirds and highlights the mother and friend in the background with the bride in the right third.


Then the rule was broken placing the bride right in the center, but we still like this photo because of what’s happening in the right and left thirds, plus the bride’s face is in the upper third and her hands are almost in the lower third.


Most of the time we break this rule for symmetry purposes like the next 4 photos.


Notice the horizon line is in the top third which helps this photo.


And here the line of the cement touching the wall hits the bottom third line, which was a happy accident!


Landscapes work the same way! Here are two iPhone examples. We used the rule of thirds in the left photo by putting the horizon in the top third and the sun brings your eye to the corner where two lines would intersect (if you’re imagining the 4 lines). The photo on the right places the horizon in the lower third and the space needle is in the lower left intersection.


To be honest, sometimes what I’ll do is quickly take a photo and then recompose and take it again using the rule of thirds in a different way, maybe placing my subject in the lower left corner or putting the horizon in the bottom third of my shot and then in the top to see which I like best. It’s fun to take a few shots of the same thing using this trick to see which photo you prefer!

We hope you have fun using and breaking this rule! Wether you hate it or love it, we find it’s always good to learn what can make a great photo. Have fun! ~Erik & Marissa

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