Petteri's Composition Class 1: The Rule of Thirds

Started Jan 6, 2003 | Discussions thread
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Petteri Sulonen Forum Pro • Posts: 24,585
Petteri's Composition Class 1: The Rule of Thirds

I'm starting these composition classes with my fallback rule, that old classic: the Rule of Thirds. I use it if I can't see any other obvious way of composing a picture, or often in combination with one of the other "rules".

"When in doubt, use the Rule of Thirds," I say.

The Rule of Thirds is very simple in principle: you mentally divide the area of the picture into thirds, with two vertical and two horizontal lines, and compose your picture around the nine areas and four intersections.

The simplest variant is to put your subject near one of the four intersections. Like this:

However, this isn't all. For example, the RoT gives a good rule of thumb for where to put the horizon on a landscape. For example:

Of course, the horizon could just as well have been on the top line; this time, though, I thought the sky was more interesting than the water, so I put it where it is.

Yet another idea is to compose the picture around the regions delimited by the lines, not by the lines or the intersections:

I find that often just thinking about the picture in terms of the rule of thirds improves things. It can also be used very effectively in combination with other "rules," and sometimes consciously breaking it leads to very interesting pictures too. However, if no obvious way of composing the picture suggests itself, the Rule of Thirds is usually a good way to go -- and almost always better than the non-composition of just putting the subject splat in the middle of the picture.

Finally, here's the assignment:

1. Present a photo of yours where you've used the Rule of Thirds in some way -- either one of the ways described above, or some other way.

2. Explain the way you've used it, and why you used it that way and not some other way.

3. For extra credit: explain why you chose the Rule of Thirds and not some other compositional idea.

Have fun,


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