How To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better Photos

18 October 2021

Are you stuck in the habit of posing your subject directly in the middle of your frame? Are your images lacking impact and oomph? One thing that can truly take your photos from beginner-level to advanced is mastering photo composition. Where you place your subjects within the frame has the power to change the overall atmosphere of your photos, and a popular composition technique is the rule of thirds. Easy to learn and master, discover how to use the rule of thirds photography to compose better photos.


What is the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds is a tried and true composition technique that just works. Developed by artists and painters many years ago, it involves positioning your main subject at the left or right third of an image, leaving the rest of your canvas open to produce a more natural composition. The rule of thirds simplifies the Golden Rule, a universal phenomenon that allows photographers and artists to compose natural-looking, aesthetically pleasing images.

How To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better PhotosHow To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better Photos

The Golden Rule

Also known as the Fibonacci sequence, the Golden Rule is found practically everywhere, and our brains are naturally hardwired to recognise it. In visual arts, the Golden Rule subdivides an image by the ratio of 1:1.618, which looks like this:

How To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better PhotosHow To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better Photos

The concentration of rectangles on the right side of the image balances out the larger rectangle on the left, which naturally focuses your eyes on the main point of interest. Representing the natural movement of your eyes, composing your images around the curved line or Fibonacci spiral will create a more balanced picture.

The Rule of Thirds grid

Using the Golden Rule above, Draw two imaginary lines to divide your photo into three even portions horizontally. Then, repeat this process vertically, creating a grid of nine equal sections. The rule of thirds involves placing your subjects at any point where these lines intersect.

Why is the rule of thirds important? In short, if you position your subject directly in the centre of your image, you are not allowing viewers of your eye to wander - this image holds less intrigue and excitement. By shifting this subject to the side, the viewer is encouraged to work a bit more to find the focal point and look at the image for longer. Photos using the rule of thirds tell a more exciting story and encourage viewers to engage with your work for longer.

How To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better PhotosHow To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better Photos

How to apply the rule of thirds?

Now that we know why the rule of thirds in photography just works, here are five tips on how you can apply it when capturing photos:

1. Use your camera’s digital grid

Most modern digital cameras have a grid that you can switch on if you have trouble identifying the correct positioning in real-time. To enable the grid, look for the “Grid Display” setting in your camera’s menu settings, then select a 3x3 grid.

2. Take various shots of the same subject

While the rule of thirds is an easy composition technique to apply, it can require some experimenting to find what angle works best for your shot. Don’t hesitate to capture the same scene under several different angles, moving your subject from one intersection on the grid to another. To capture different angle, don’t just shift your camera. Move your model or subject to different intersecting points until you find the ideal position.

How To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better PhotosHow To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better Photos
How To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better PhotosHow To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better Photos

3. Follow the leading lines technique

The intersecting points on your grid are the key areas that you can position your subjects for maximum impact, but you can also use the whole gridlines to your advantage. When capturing landscapes, for example, line up your subject vertically or level your horizon with a horizontal gridline for well-balanced and visually compelling images.

4. Place multiple subjects at different thirds

If your image has more than one point of focus, you can use the rule of thirds to highlight both. Experienced photographers will often position the main subject at one intersecting point of the grid, and a secondary subject at the opposing intersecting point.

5. Don’t forget the eyes

When looking at a portrait, the model’s eyes are often the first place we look. When shooting head and shoulder portraits, place your model’s eye at an intersecting point of the grid for the best results.

How To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better PhotosHow To Use the Rule of Thirds To Compose Better Photos

Practice makes perfect

Eventually, rule of thirds photography will become second nature. But the only way to get there is with plenty of practice. Ted’s Cameras stock DSLRs, Mirrorless cameras and camera accessories to help take your photography to the next level. To learn new photography tips and tricks, be sure to check out Ted’s Cameras’ photography blog.


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