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Rule of Thirds Explained

The rule of thirds is one of those fundamental concepts in photography that often gets overlooked or underutilized. It is easy to just learn it and then let it pass by, but it is a very important piece of the photography process. That is why with me Rachel at Rachel Z Photography, your photography guide in San Francisco, California, we are going to look at the rule of thirds explained.


What is the Rule of Thirds?

Shawn Ingersoll, a photographer and designer, stated that the Rule of Thirds is more of a guideline or a practice. For beginners, it is a rule of thumb and probably the most fundamental thing you will learn as a beginner.


As essential as it is, it can also be used in a good deal of photography to deliver photos that are well balanced and engaging to the viewers. Photographers usually practice this ability to produce more interesting compositions.


It’s merely dividing your image into nine equal sections–it’s three horizontal lines and three vertical lines wherein you want your subject to be placed (either left or right) that would result pleasing to the eyes. Within the grid, there is a point of interest that we will tackle later.

The corners of the central square make a focal point. All you have to do is take a balanced photo by avoiding placing the subject inside the box. The key to a perfect picture is to set the subject either at the top, bottom, left, or right portion of the grid.


The Rule of Thirds is an invention that dates back to the 18th century. It suggested that the naked eye gravitates at the four focal points and is said to be the perfect position to set the subject.


Imagine a tic-tac-toe in your viewfinder, and there you go. That is how the rule of thirds is visualized. The composition has something more than this was applied by the visual artists for a long time until today. Curious theorists, artists, and bloggers are looking for an answer to comprehend how the naked eye is so pleased with this rule.


In Landscapes

The best way to start is to align the skyline with one of the three horizontal lines, and that, of course, the bottom would be the best if you have skyline and fields shot. However, it does not align with the horizontal line.


If you have other elements in the image, focus them near at least one of the focal points of the thirds. Using the rule of thirds will support you best when framing the shot.


In Portraits

Using the rule of thirds on portraits can make or break you. One tip for seizing that magnificent portrait is positioning the body with one of the vertical lines. Another great trick is if the subject is looking or facing to the left (supposedly that is your right), position them at the left vertical line on the grid. It also works in the opposite way–if the subject is facing the opposite side.


If sometimes you have a dead center of your subject in your portrait, take the snap with the body inclining out (whichever side) to provide more visual interest.


There will be times when there’s no need to use the Rule of Thirds because not all situations need the application of this rule. For instance, a bird in the center of the grid; however, it is looking down the lens. The usage of the Rule of Thirds still depends on a case-to-case basis.


Breaking the Rules

Of course, there are still rules that are made to be broken. As stated above, there will be times and situations wherein the Rule of Thirds is ineffective; thus, you will still need to learn how to do it.


Disengaging with the guidelines can make the photo more eye-catching, engaging, and dynamic. You may experiment with the compositions as well. Here are a few samples where pros ignored the rules.


About Rachel Z Photography

I’m a 28-year-old San Francisco-based photographer, activist, tattoo enthusiast, and guardian of 2 lovely rescued birds. I adore doing portrait photography for others, whether that’s indoors or outdoors, covered in flowers and nature or covered in fake blood. My goal with my photography is to empower you by taking the essence of who you are and turning it into works of art. I want to hear what YOUR ideas are and help make them into a reality. I want you to feel powerful. I want you to feel beautiful. I want you to feel confident, because we all deserve that.

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