The Rule of Thirds

If you ask the average backyard photographer what composing a good photo is, they’ll tell you to put your subject dead center and you can’t go wrong. If you go through your family photo album right now, you’ll find dozens, maybe even hundreds of photographs demonstrating this very advice. Some of them might be good pictures, capturing the essence of your uncle, your mother, or your pet dog, but maybe not great photos.Back in the days of darkroom development, bad composition could be easily corrected during the printing stage using an enlarger. With digital photography, it’s still pretty easy with the photo editing program of your choice once you’ve uploaded images to your computer. But either way, you’re creating an extra step after the initial shoot. Save yourself some time and do it right the first time.

You’ve learned how to move in close, how to step into your subject and capture its details. But something’s missing. Or maybe you’re very happy with the shots you’ve taken already. How could you improve them any more?

Here’s a tip: Consider the Rule of Thirds.

The Rule of Thirds is a term which means taking the viewfinder, or photograph, and dividing it with imaginary lines into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. Think of it as setting a tic-tac-toe board across your viewfinder, creating 9 small squares. (Some digital cameras even offer this grid as an option to toggle on and off using your viewfinder or the LCD on the back of the camera’s body. This is very helpful to the beginning photographer if your camera has this feature.)
By placing your subject on one of the cross sections, where the horizontal and vertical lines meet, you’re creating a much more pleasing snapshot.

In general, place people or things (your subject) to the right or left of the center (on those imaginary dissecting lines). For landscapes, put the horizon or the point of interest above or below the center of your frame (again, on the imaginary bissecting lines). Try it on some of the photos you’ve already taken, using the crop tool in your favorite image editing program. Choose an image from your hard drive with the subject composed in the center of the photo. Make a copy of it, then using the crop tool, crop your image so the subject remains off center. Now compare both photos. Which do you like best? You’ll like the photo that honors the rule of thirds.One more small tip to keep in mind, especially when photographing people, and using the rule of thirds. Never allow your subject (if it’s a living thing) to look outside the photo when you compose the shot. Always compose so your subject’s eyes are looking to the center of the photo. It doesn’t matter if they’re looking away from the camera – just be sure they’re eyes are on side or the other from the center imaginary line of a photo composition. To have a subject looking ‘off screen’, so to speak, seems unfinished and uncomfortable.

As a final note, remember, the saying ‘rules are made to be broken’ may be true in art-related fields, but most often, adhering to those guidelines will produce the best composition, and the best shot. You have to use your judgment and experiment with every shot.


~ by samgraphicdesign on July 8, 2008.

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