What Is The Rule Of Thirds In Photography?

Photography is not just a hobby; it is an art. It is far from the regular focus and click style; it has rules too such as the rule of thirds. A rule that is made to give your images a professional and excellent touch.

I must say that for you to display your skills as a professional photographer, then the photography rule of thirds should be one of your guidelines when composing an image.

Even if photography is a hobby for you, following the rule of thirds is just another way to get better at your hobby and will give you a visually pleasing and well-balanced image.

If you already know about the rule of 3rds, you’ll never know what more you will learn more from this article, and if you have never heard of it before, now you have. This article is a must-read for you, so read on

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What Is The Rule Of Thirds In Photography?

Rule Of Thirds In Photography

This rule is one of the oldest concepts not just in photography but art in general. It is a well-known rule in photography. With this rule, photographers are guided rightly to get balanced and exciting images. However, it should be viewed as totally optional.

Not following the rule of thirds does not necessarily mean your images will not be balanced and exciting. But the importance of the rule cannot be overemphasized.

What this rule brings forth is for you as a photographer, to – in horizontal and vertical ways- break your image into thirds, which will give you nine parts in all.


In your mind, you can break down the images. , you can divide the image via your camera’s viewfinder or the LCD which is often used to frame your shots. With this painting in your mind, the rule of thirds grid then establishes four essential parts of the image, where you may place points of interest in while you frame your image.

Also, you will get four lines of beneficial positions for objects in your photo.

For this theory, you are encouraged to place interest on the intersections or along the lines provided. With this, your photo gets a more balanced outcome while promoting natural interaction from the image viewer.

Studies reveal that viewers often look at one of the intersection points more than they look at the center of the shot. However, it happens naturally. Applying the rule of thirds works hand in hand with this natural viewing trend in image viewers. The rule serves as an advantage and not a limitation on your image.

In Portraits

The rule of thirds is what makes portrait images appear so simple as they do. During portrait photography for only one person, you should place the eyes of the subject at the top rule of the third line. But, when you have more people in the portrait, then you can put the eyes both at the bottom and the top rule of thirds lines. A group pose is found more beautiful than a single row pose because of this.

The Zone Method

Division of scenes into zones is an alternative way of using the rule of thirds. Instead of utilizing the intersecting points of the grid, the division of your views is also another way to apply this rule. It comes in useful for the composition of some photographs.

Picture the three sections/zones you have with lines running across the frame and the lines may be horizontally or vertically run. While composing, it is expected of you to fill each of the zones with a different portion of the general composition. The various zones available have different emphasis they will place on the image subjects.

The objects in the bottom frame often have more influence. For the left to right readers, their focus will be on the right part of the frame; while the right to left readers will focus more on the left. To solve these things, you can place a prominent subject in a manner where it will turn out to be the focal point.


John Thomas Smith, in his book, was the first to write down the rule of thirds in 1797. The book was titled Remarks on Rural Scenery and in it was a quote from Sir Joshua Reynolds’s work in 1783 where he discussed dark and light balance in painting. As an expansion on his idea, John Thomas Smith named it “Rule of thirds”

George field in his book Chromatics (1845) points out that for warm to cold colors proportion in painting, ratio 2:1 is given as a rule by Sir Joshua Reynolds while Smith expanded the rule to apply to all proportions in painting. The universality of this rule has of early date, caused skepticism, at least, in regards to color.

It is Smith’s conception of the rule that should be applied overall, rather than the commonly explained version today. Smith recommends it for the division of all straight lines, groups or masses and not just the frame. However, the general idea which states that intersections of the frame’s third lines are especially interesting or strong for composition.

How To Use The Rule Of Thirds

During photo framing, divide the scene into thirds in your mind to give you a total of nine parts. Near the lines, position the elements you think are the most important in the photo, also place them near intersections of the grid. You should not worry about getting a perfect line up as far as they are close.

To achieve the best composition, moving around may be needed. With this, you will be forced to be more careful when thinking about the shots. Apart from the use of the rule of thirds, it is a good habit to have.

Cameras now make the application of the rule of thirds straightforward. They have settings available that overlay a rule of thirds grid on your photo. Your positioning will be gotten more accurately as guesswork is out of it.

The versatile nature of the rule of thirds makes it suitable for use on any subject. In landscape shots, placing the horizon along a horizontal line in the lines available is better than the standardized way of putting it along the center. Doing this gives a “split in two” appearance to the image.

Another way to use the rule of thirds is to position another exciting object while following the rule. With this, the scene gets a natural focal point (an anchor).

Using Editing Software

Editing is an excellent way to apply the rule of thirds. You can reposition your image’s essential subjects by cropping the photo. This way you can move the vital elements to more pleasing positions. Software like Luminar will be helpful in this regard. They have inbuilt “crop guide overlays,” and an option therein is a rule of thirds. There is a placement of a grid on the image to guide you while cropping on the image. This grid allows you to follow the rule of third correctly.

Position The Horizon In Landscape

photography composition rules

For landscape photography, one of the first things that should be on your mind is the rule of thirds when you are composing your photo. In landscape, If the horizon is placed centrally in the pictures, they don’t turn out to look good as this tends to cut the image in half, therefore, displeasing to the eye.

When you place the horizon around the horizontal third lines, which is the best positioning, you get an increased naturally balanced composition. Your choice of positioning on the grid line will be determined by what you intend to emphasize in the scene. It could be on the top or bottom grid line.

You are encouraged to align the horizon around the top thirds line that is if there is an interesting foreground in your landscape. You will get a more pleasing composition if you position the horizon off center, closer to the top or bottom of the frame than a central horizon will be.

Position The Main Subject Off-Center

Photography rule of thirds

The main subject of the scene you are working with has to be determined. You should ask yourself what the subject is. When you decide on what your main subject is, the decision of where to place it within the frame is then up to you. The rule of thirds will be helpful in deciding the ideal position for your subject; whether centrally or off-center.

Off-center positioning mostly appears more balanced and natural. Especially when placed on any of the junction points where the grid lines meet, both the horizontal and vertical.

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Position The Eyes In Portraits

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Whether people or animals, in portrait photography you should apply the rules of thirds, it will assist you in positioning the face and eye of the subject within the scene.

A viewer’s gaze draws to the eyes of the subject. Hence, going with the rule of thirds, positioning the eyes off-center is expected to give the most reliable composition. If only one eye is visible, you can place it at the point where two lines meet. But when both eyes are visible, you may put them along the top grid line.

Break Symmetry

You can create a symmetrical image when there’s water in the foreground of your scene thereby forming a reflection, and this is why positioning on the horizon is better done centrally. The rule of thirds can still apply in a symmetric image.

You can place one main subject off-center as an inclusion in the image; if you do this, you have incorporated the rule of thirds in the picture. The effect is that the symmetry is broken while there is the creation of a more compelling image.

Align Vertical Subjects

For vertical subjects like tall people or high buildings, there’s a need to have a careful thought about how to position it within the frame. Placing such items in the middle cuts them in half just like it does to a centrally situated horizon. Putting the subject to the left, right or near one of the grid lines (vertical), usually works out best.

Leave Negative Space


Negative space is the empty spaces in a scene. If well used, they can have a significant impact on your photo. It allows you to make a clean and straightforward composition. As nothing else is seeking for attention, the strongest emphasis and focus are on your subject with no competition.

Positioning your main subject right is highly significant. With lots of space, creating an unbalanced composition is very easy. So care must be taken. With the application of the rule of thirds, you will have the ability to create an excellent composition, and your subject will balance the space quite well.

Do not forget to align, on one of the grid lines, your main subject in a situation where there is a lot of negative space in your scene.

Leave Active Space For Moving Subjects

rule of thirds photography definition


When your subject is moving in a scene, the rule of thirds works well because you will be leaving enough space in the front for your subject to move into.

Leave Space For The Subject To Look Into

rule of thirds examples

Imagine your subject looking either to the left or right of the frame, the rule of thirds will guide you to compose your image well. The best thing to do is to leave more space towards the direction the subject’s gaze is. There’s room to look into if you do this. Just as said for moving subjects, the viewer can follow the gaze of the subject to give the idea of what the subject is looking at.

The rule of thirds is convenient here too. For close up shots, you should position where you want your viewer’s eyes to be drawn to and place the area off-center. Emphasis should be placed on the vital part of the image when taking a close up shot of a subject.

Use Rule Of Thirds To Compose Abstracts

Scenes with textures, lines or patterns and that have abstract quality can also accommodate the application of the rule of thirds to examine the placement of different elements. Seek other objects that can which you will place on any of the junction points, or grid lines. Splitting the composition of your image into one third or two thirds can happen with the use of these elements.

When To Break The Rule Of Thirds?

I have stated somewhere above in this article that the rule of thirds is not a strict rule that you have to follow before you can have an excellent image. It is just a guideline to help you get a composed picture. There are cases where you can break the rule, but be sure to have a good reason.

Throwing your subject right in the middle of the frame sometimes is the best. But, ensure you understand what the effect will be on the image and your viewer. The rule of thirds mostly works than not, so breaking it should only be when it doesn’t give the desired style or intended result you seek. Still, it can be broken but recommended not to be.


There you have it, the rule of thirds; a law that gives excellent composition to picture making. I hope this article has added to your knowledge of photography. Apart from photographers; videographers, painters and even graphic designers employ the use of the rule of thirds.

It is a guideline you should follow if you want a good image result. It is only a guideline and not a must follow rule, so you can break it but be ‘sure’ you are ‘sure’ before you do so.

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