The Rule of Thirds is one of the most commonly used methods of photography composition. This is a perfect technique that beginners can quickly learn and start using to take better photos right away.

With the rule of thirds, you mentally divide the image using 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines. Your subject and / or primary elements are then placed near those dividing lines or where the lines intersect.

The grid above might already look familiar to you. It is commonly displayed as a guide in most camera viewfinders, LCD screens and in many smartphone camera apps.

How to Use the Rule of Thirds

As with creating any photo, the first step is to determine what the main subject is and recognizing any other key points of interest. Once you have this figured out, you can start to think about how you can compose those elements using the rule of thirds. Let’s look at some examples.

In the photo above, I actually used both of the vertical thirds to compose the photo. First, I placed my model directly on the left third dividing line. However, the graffiti on the right was a bit too distracting.

So, I stepped back and positioned myself behind a large metal pole, allowing it to go out of focus and fill the right third of the frame. This helped eliminate distractions and resulted in a more balanced image.

For the photo of the John Deere Chinese Pavilion at the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens in Des Moines, I also composed using 2 different thirds. However this time, I’m using both vertical and horizontal lines.

I placed the horizon on the lower horizontal third. My primary subject is then anchored firmly into the foreground by using the right vertical dividing line.

For the portrait above, I’m using 3 sections from the rule of thirds. My model is posed along the right third dividing line. The rocks fill the left third of the frame and by posing him so that his legs stretch out, he completes the gap between the rocks and allows the foreground to fill the bottom horizontal third.

In the first three examples, I use the entire space of a third or a dividing line to compose my points of interest. However, there’s one more way that you can use the rule of thirds and that is with the intersecting points.

For the statue of the little girl in the forest, I simple used a single point. The girl is looking up and to the right. So, I placed her on the lower left intersecting point, allowing her to look out into the negative space of the frame.

Breaking the Rule of Thirds

All rules are meant to be broken, or at least bent from time to time. So, think of the rule of thirds as more of a guideline and play with it. Subjects do not need to be placed directly on a dividing line or precisely at an intersecting point.

Try moving them further away from the lines and out to the edges of the frame. Experiment with the subject placement in your rule of thirds compositions and see what happens.