The Rule Of Thirds In Photographic Composition

The rule of thirds in photographic composition is one of the very basic rules taught to budding photographers and entry level aspirants in the stream. Be it photography school or your first session at design class, rule of thirds is the most prominent guideline for ordering the elements in well-balanced and naturally appealing manner. Just like the golden mean, this rule of alignment also helps you in making interesting images.

So, What Is The Rule Of Thirds?

The rule of thirds is a fundamental rule in photographic composition. The basic idea of this rule is to align the areas of interest in a composition such that the resulting image draws more interest and reaction.

The rule of thirds basically states that when you frame the subject in the thirds of the photographic plane or align the areas of interest in the composition along the points of intersection, it results in an image that draws higher level of interest, energy in the image and viewer reaction.

Let’s do some groundwork here. Imagine that the image is divided into three equal parts horizontally as well as three equal parts vertically. This will result in dividing the image into a 9 part grid with four points of intersection called the power points as illustrated below.

The lines divide the frame into nine sections

The lines divide the frame into nine sections

When you frame the image by placing the subject in one of the thirds or by aligning the area of interest along the power points, the resulting image is aesthetically pleasing and looks professional. The areas of interest need not be at one of the power points but in fact they could be aligned to one of the vertical or horizontal lines. This works best when you’re shooting the images having horizons or other surfaces. Let’s have a look at some examples to better understand the rule of thirds.


  • Visual Rule Of Thirds: This image simply exemplifies the rule of thirds as is. The lines divide the plane in three equal parts and the sunflower is placed along one of the power points.
  • Power Point: The area of interest in the image is aligned along the point of intersection.
  • Alignment Along The Lines: The horizon is placed along one of the horizontal lines to draw the eye to the mountain elevation.

Most of the newbie photographers or end-users like to place the subject in the center of the frame. This results in a boring flat image. The right placement of the subject draws more viewer interest and results  in a professional composition. Most of the professional cameras have good viewfinder grids which will allow you to experiment and get a better hand at testing the rule of thirds.

That’s not all. You can turn your mundane images into interesting ones by cropping the images in the image editor according to the rule of thirds. Adobe Photoshop’s rule of thirds grid for instance comes in handy for aligning the subject or point of interest according to the rule of thirds.

A Simple Exercise

Here’s a simple exercise to see how rule of thirds brings a difference in your captures. Pick up your digital camera and shoot 2 shots each for 5 different compositions. Place the subject in the center in the first shot and along a power point in the second. Copy these images to your computer and compare both shots side-by-side. Do this for all the 5 pairs. Which one do you find more interesting?

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