The ‘rule of thirds’ is an important tool in photography as well as all other aspects of design. The rule states that if you take a canvas (or in our case a photograph) and divide it into three equally sized horizontal sections and three equally sized vertical sections, the resulting grid provides a kind of “roadmap” that helps you choose where to place your elements. By thinking of your grid as “map”, you can use the spots where the lines intersect to indicate the prime focal areas within your photograph.  Putting a subject or element closer to one of these intersections will allow it to naturally stand out, while objects that are further away will be given less attention.


There are a few ‘rule of thirds’ ideas to keep in mind when you take photographs. At the basic level, it is best for the horizon in your photograph to line up with one of the horizontal lines on your grid.

_akb0941_dxoFor landscapes, it’s usually best to have the horizon on the top horizontal line, so that the picture shows more of the subject matter and less empty sky space.

If you’re looking to place focus and emphasis on a visually interesting sky (clouds or a sunrise), you can do the opposite and put the horizon on the bottom horizontal line.

portraitPortraits may work best when the person’s eyes line up with the focal points of the intersecting lines. Placing their eyes on one of these points can create more engagement than placing them in the center of the photograph.

For action shots, be careful not to cramp your subject and keep in mind the idea of your subject’s movement or the sense of movement you’re trying to create. Place the subject at one end of the grid and leave space ahead of them. In other words, try to leave at the other side for your subject’s “destination”.

After you’ve established a good understanding of the ‘rule of thirds’, it may be time to break the rules. While the ‘rule of thirds’ grid naturally sets your photograph up for perfect symmetry, and while humans are naturally attracted to symmetry, rules are sometimes meant to be broken. Creating perfect symmetry can set you up to go unnoticed because we’re so used to seeing it all the time. Creating an image that is asymmetrical can send a signal that something is different and unique, which can be incredibly engaging. While symmetry can be something to experiment with, balance is a necessity. The ‘rule of thirds’ grid can help you figure out how to use asymmetrical balance to your advantage by showing you which parts of your photo has the most weight and how to appropriately space elements and subjects.

The more you understand the rule and its effects, the easier it can be to disrupt the audience’s expectations. Experiment with other areas of the space and see what is possible. This can be a great way to open yourself up creatively.

Need more help with the ‘rule of thirds’? Consider signing up for one of Camera Land’s classes! We have great class offering that offer all kinds of classes, workshops and lectures.

Call us today at 516-217-1000 or visit the Camera Land Learning Center at:

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