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The Rule of Thirds


Digital Photography Tutorial - Composition Part 1

Link to 2 of this tutorial.


The difference between a snapshot and an artistic photograph is simply a matter of composition. By changing the focal length, angle and position of the camera, the relative positions and sizes of objects in the frame can be changed to produce a more visually pleasing effect. Learning to do this is mostly a matter of practice and experimentation, but there are a number of tips and techniques that can help you to take better pictures.

The first and most important is to take your time. Look at the scene in the viewfinder or on your monitor and try to see it not as a view but as a finished print. Ask yourself if there’s any way that it can be improved by maybe zooming in a little, or by moving the camera. A tripod is a very useful tool for this, since it lets you view a completely static image without having to hold the camera steady.

Composition is a major subject, and there are many examples of different techniques for different situations. As a result this tutorial will be split over two instalments. In this one I’ll cover the most basic tips that can instantly help you take better photos. In the next, I’ll tackle more advanced techniques that you’ll need to practice.

The Rule of Thirds

The most commonly used compositional technique is called the Rule Of Thirds, and it’s really very simple. Take a look at this picture:

It’s a nice enough shot, correctly exposed, in focus and nicely lit, but now look at this one:

Doesn’t that look better? It’s obviously the same statue, and taken from exactly the same position, but this composition is much more appealing. The reason it works is because the statue is now positioned off-centre in the frame, in fact it is one third of the distance from the right to the left. This type of composition is known as the Rule of Thirds.

The best way to use the Rule of Thirds is to imagine the frame divided up into thirds both vertically and horizontally, rather like a Noughts and Crosses grid. If you position the main elements of the image on these imaginary lines, or better yet on the intersections where the lines meet, you’ll find that your image will look a lot more pleasing to the eye.

The Rule of Thirds works just as well in vertical-format shots, and is useful in landscape photography, since features on the horizon makes a natural dividing line.

In portrait photography, positioning your subject’s nearest eye on an intersection will give your portrait much greater impact and really help to draw the viewer’s attention into the picture.

Many digital cameras feature an option to superimpose the Rule of Thirds grid on the monitor screen to make this type of composition easier. You may have seen this and wondered what it was for; now you know the answer.

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