Framing a Picture: The Rule of Thirds

One of the most common rules of framing a picture in photography, and other art forms, is the rule of thirds. It is typically one of the first things you learn when taking a formal photography course and is common in design and painting as well. Framing your photo using the rule of thirds will make sense as you start to identify it in photos you view, including your own. As with any rule, it is best to know what it is and what it means so you are able to use your own discretion in using it.

What Is the Rule of Thirds?

In simple terms, the rule of thirds is the sectioning of a photo into nine equal parts. The parts are divided by four lines that intersect with each other; similar to what a tic-tac-toe grid looks like. The terminology 'rule of thirds' comes from the fact that a photo is divided into three equal parts horizontally and three equal parts vertically. You may have seen the grid line option on your own camera and wondered what it was for. Now you know.

Why Is the Rule of Thirds Used?

So, what is the purpose of dividing a photo into thirds? The school of thought comes from the fact that centering an object directly in the middle of a photo can seem overwhelming or distracting. Instead, it is thought that placing the focus of the photo off to the left or right, along one of the two grid lines, is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. It also prevents those much loved horizon photos from looking like they are dividing the photo exactly in two.  

Utilizing the Vertical 'Lines'

When you have your grid lines in place, either imaginary or actual, the vertical lines (the ones that go up and down) are typically used to place standing items; for instance, a tree or the side of a building or a person you are photographing. Lining up the subject on either side with the vertical lines looks more natural.

Utilizing the Horizontal 'Lines'

The lines going from side to side are the horizontal lines and are used as the natural line for the horizon, branches or trees, buildings or other naturally occurring lines.

Where the 'Lines' Intersect

The intersections of the lines are actually the prime spots for subjects of photos. A great example is the photo of a person. For ideal location, you would line up the subject with the vertical line, having their eyes at the level of the top horizontal line. Another example is the sunset or other photo that focuses on the horizon; these photos should be lined up with the top horizontal line.

The rule of thirds is an important part of photography for a reason and should definitely be considered in your work. Being aware of the placement of subjects and objects in your photos will give you shots that are incredible. However, there are times when creativity should rule also. As you gain more experience, you will be able to determine if and when the rule of thirds should be applied to your work.


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