How to Apply the Rule Of Thirds for Better Shot Composition

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In the video above, Pro-tog Mike Browne does an excellent job explaining the Rule of Thirds.  The ROT is one of the most basic rules (ouch…  I really hate using that word since no rule is absolute.  But I guess it rolls off the tongue better than “the Guideline of Thirds” ~_^) of composition and it’s so simple that a child could easily master it in a matter of moments.  Yet it’s surprising how many aspiring photo-videographers are either oblivious to the ROT or choose not to apply it, but by using this one simple rule technique, you can easily transform your image making from run of the mill to top of the class.

PictureCorrect also posted an interesting article on the Rule of Thirds which discusses many aspects of using the rule, including the following situations…

Multiple subjects:

“Several points of interest need a prioritization of each subject’s importance to the photograph. You’ll need to consider which subjects will be in the foreground and which will remain in the background. Where you place those subjects on your ROT grid will either underline or discount their significance.

Of the four intersection points on your grid, the bottom right point has the most focal weight. That’s where your viewer’s eyes are naturally drawn in multiple subject compositions. The upper left point has the least focal weight.”

How To Take the Rule a Few Steps Further:

For instance, how does the direction in which your subject is looking affect your shot composition?

PC continues “The rule of thirds is best used in such circumstances when the subject is placed upon the line opposite of the direction in which he or she’s looking.  For instance, imagine your image is focused on a man who is looking toward the right. He deserves to be positioned on your grid’s left line. Likewise, the line along which he is looking should run along the top line of your grid. This kind of framing is intuitive to the viewer; it seems natural. And is more engaging.”

When To Bend, or Even Ignore, the Rule of Thirds:

“Like all rules of composition, the rule of 3rds can be bent or broken. In reality, setting it aside can yield photographs that deliver shocking impact. As an example, a lone road that runs directly into the horizon can be positioned directly in the middle of your image. While doing so ignores the ROT, it can produce a powerful image that draws your spectator’s eye.  By framing your subjects according to the rule of thirds, you’ll be able to create compositions that appear balanced and interesting to your viewer. That said, after you learn the way to effectively use the ROT, be open to experimenting with pictures that ignore it. You could be stunned by the effect your footage can have.”  (Read full article on PictureCorrect.com)

My 2 Cents – Trusting Your Gut Edition…

The Rule of Thirds is an excellent guideline to use when you want to teach yourself to compose better images.  It’s a great tool to practice, learn and use much like you would practice dribbling a basketball before you ever played a game.  But once you’ve got it down to the point where it almost becomes a habit, it becomes easier to improvise.  Like any technique, the Rule of Thirds is most effective when you combine it with your own natural instincts.

When you frame an image, be conscious of what looks right to you as an image maker, or better yet, what feels right.  Remember, whenever you make an image, you are the only person who will ever be in that specific place at that specific time.  So go ahead.  Improvise.  Create, and use tools you have at your disposal like the Rule of Thirds.  But most importantly, go out and have fun!

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