5. The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is one of the most used composition techniques because it is simple and very effective. It entails dividing the frame of the photograph into a 3x3 grid. The points where the horizontal lines cross with the vertical lines are called power points, or crash points. If you place the subject of the photograph on these power points, of which there are 4, this draws the viewer’s interest.

This rule is generally applied when the photo is shot. These days, cameras have aids like grids in the viewfinder or screen, allowing you to easily compose using the rule of thirds. It’s also true that you can make adjustments in the lab by cropping to make the subject line up perfectly with a power point.

In the case where there is more than one subject of interest, we can situate each one on a power point, helping attract attention.

The use of this rule results in photographs that depart from the idea that the subject should be centered in the photo. When we compose we try to make the subject of the photo stand out. We like it to stand out against a scene, background, or situation in order to express it with more impact. If we center the subject too much, the result is too descriptive and the subject takes on such importance that the rest of the photo loses our interest.

That’s why the rule is so effective, although it’s true that breaking it skillfully results in very powerful photographs.


Example 1 The Rule of Thirds

In the following example we can see a photograph that a kind man or woman took of my father on a trip to Ireland. There is a suspension bridge located in White Park Bay to the north of the island (I’ve modified the photo by centering it):

Dos Tercios ko Lluis Ribes i Portillo

It’s an interesting photograph, but by centering the subject, in this case my father, we don’t notice in the rest of the photograph the lovely beach at the foot of the cliff. Applying the rule of thirds, as we see below, my father continues to be the main subject, but at the same time we can rest our gaze and enjoy the beach, which takes on greater presence:

Dos Tercios  ok Lluis Ribes i Portillo
Tutorial developed by Lluís Ribes i Portillo. This work is under license Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial 3.0 Unported