One of the most common photography “rules” is the rule of thirds. This is one of those technical rules that, once you know it, you don’t have to think about it much. Chances are you’re already doing this without giving it a second thought. And like all rules in photography, it’s meant to be broken–as long as you do it intentionally. Regardless, it’s a great tip to keep in the back of your mind as you’re framing your shot.
The rule of thirds pertains to the composition of your image; where is your subject located within the frame? As you look through your viewfinder or LCD screen, imagine the frame divided into 9 sections, like I’ve shown below:
Rather than place your subject smack dab in the middle, like many non-photographers instinctively do, it is more pleasing to the eye to have your subject along one of the lines, especially with the main focal point being at one of the intersections. In the image above, Holden’s upper body is along the right horizontal line, and one of the intersections is over his face.
As you shoot, be mindful of your composition. You might have to back up a little bit or have your subject move to include negative space on one side of your photo. Think of it as “breathing room.”
In the example of the model below, again, her body goes along one of the lines. One of the intersecting points is over her face, close to her eye. There is breathing room on the left side of the photo.
t doesn’t matter which side of your photo you place the subject on. I tend to shoot with my subjects on the right side; it’s just a personal preference. Maybe it’s because I’m right-handed? I don’t know.
If your subject isn’t facing the camera straight on, turn them toward the empty space. Don’t turn your subjects toward the edge of the frame. Let them breathe.
I cropped that same photo below (and stretched it on the right side) to show a bad example of using negative space. Below, it’s almost like he’s smashed up against the edge of the photo. The open space on the right seems unnatural. His hand is too close to the edge of the photo on the left side.
The rule of thirds applies to all kinds of photography, including food:
Above, the intersecting points fall on the front two spaces and I left blank space at the top of the image to make a little more interesting.
And like I mentioned in the beginning, sometimes the rule of thirds should be ignored. If you follow it 100% of the time, it can get boring. Break up the monotony with a center-weighted image; or an artistic use of vast negative space with your subject down in one of the corners.
Symmetry and center-weighted images kind of go hand-in-hand:
Once you learn the rule of thirds, tuck it into the back your mind and don’t stress over it too much. It will come naturally to you after a while, and be sure to mix it up every now and then. Throw all caution to the wind and center your subject just because you feel like it.
Bonus Photoshop Tip: Test the Rule of Thirds Using Guides
If you goofed and your subject is more centered than you wanted them to be, you can crop them afterwards in Photoshop or whatever editing program you use. I also have a handy tip for testing the rule of thirds on your images in Photoshop–it’s what I used as guide to make the grid on the images above.
This could be a helpful tool for anytime you want to crop your images according to the rule of thirds! :)