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Rule of Thirds - Photography Composition Techniques

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 2/2/2011

This digital photography article will explain what the Rule of Thirds is, and how to use it to take better pictures. This article is part of a series on photographic composition.

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    This article belongs to a series of photography composition techniques. To start from the beginning, please refer to The Big Picture – Photography Composition Techniques.

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    Rule of Thirds

    Rule of Thirds sets best practice for positioning the elements of a picture in order to achieve the best results. Following this “rule" will assist a photographer in producing a more aesthetically pleasing photo.

    Firstly, I’d like to mention there are no set rules to photography. Let’s face it, if there were hard and fast rules, we’d have a lot of uncreative and unattractive photographs floating around. Photography is an art form – a portal to creativity. So, the word “Rule" in “Rule of Thirds" should maybe be replaced with “Rule of Thumb"...then again, that doesn’t flow so nicely, does it? You get the idea.

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    Rule of Thirds Grid

    Visualize a Noughts and Crosses grid (Tic-Tac-Toe, if you prefer) and you’ve pictured the Rule of Thirds.

    (Click on images to enlarge)

    Rule of Thirds Grid 

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    Yep, it’s that simple....well, almost. The idea is that you take your subject(s) or areas of interest and place them along or near the intersecting parts of the grid.

    Surprisingly – or not – many people tend to take pictures with their subject being smack dab in the center of the photograph. This applies to all subject matters – people, landscapes, wildlife, etc. Although, sometimes a photograph can walk away looking better with the subject centered, that’s rarely the case.

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    Examples of the Rule of Thirds

    The following example shows the grid on the picture. The people are positioned near the bottom right intersection...

    Photo by PhotopediaPhotos

    rule of thirds 

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    Visualize the grid on the following pictures and take note how the point of interests are positioned on or near the imaginary intersecting lines...

    Photo by eye of einstein

    the rule of thirds 

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    Photo by Midnight-digital

    photo composition 

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    Photo by susanlk74

    photographic composition technique 

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    Bad Example, Good Example

    I’ll conclude this article with two images. They are of the same people and same background, in fact, they haven’t even changed positions. The only difference is that the photographer repositioned herself to follow the rule of thirds, making for a much more appealing photograph.

    Photos by PhotopediaPhotos

    Bad example:

    bad example of the rule of thirds 

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    Good example:

    good example of the Rule of Thirds