What Is The Rule of Thirds? A Guide To Composition in Photography

John Torcasio

Composition is an important principle of photography that allows us to create visually balanced and intriguing images. One of the most well known and practiced rules of composition is the Rule of Thirds.

According to its definition, the rule of thirds is the “rule of thumb or guideline which applies to the process of composing visual images such as designs, films, paintings and photographs.” In simple terms, the rule of thirds acts as an outline for how we frame and capture our subject – whether that be a person, object or landscape.

The rule of thirds technique is often discussed in introductory photography courses and is a topic that most beginners are encouraged to use when creating their images. While rules of the craft aren’t always meant to be followed, the rule of thirds can serve as a solid first step into the realm of composition.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The Rule of Thirds is created by following a 9 part, grid divider that will essentially overlay onto your images. This grid is found when looking through the viewfinder of you digital camera when starting to compose your shot.

Most DSLR cameras allow for the grid to only show in live viewing mode. To allow your grid to be displayed in the viewfinder, you can follow these general steps.

  • Locate your camera MENU
  • Find the tab with the setting of VF Grid Display
  • Switch the grid from Disable to Enable
  • The grid should now be displayed in your viewfinder

The grid is divided into 9 parts both horizontally and vertically and the square in the middle is the main point of interest. Each corner of the center square denotes a spot where you can place your subject to create a composition that is balanced.

Utilizing these four corners, you now have the four circled points and intersecting lines to consider when framing your image. The rule of thirds theory claims that lining your image up along one of the four corners or along its intersecting lines will allow you to create a balanced and dynamic image.

The rule of thirds aims to create composition that is natural to the viewer’s eye. While many beginning photographers may think to compose their subject in the dead center of their image, it is often that our focus is naturally drawn off-centered.

How to Create the Rule of Thirds in Your Images

Applying the rule of thirds theory to your own images depends on the subject you are photographing as well as the background composition. A general rule is to find where the elements of interest are in your image, as well as where you will find the strongest points of focus.

By determining where your image appears the strongest, you can then place this area within one of the four points or intersection of lines as described above.

For many photographers, this technique will come quickly and effortlessly. While for others, it may take some time to adjust to setting up more intentionally balanced images. Either way, the rule of thirds is a rule of composition that can be used in most photographic scenarios.

While practicing good composition is beneficial to the development of your technical photography skills, you should not be afraid to break away from the constraints created by the rule of thirds. Visually dynamic and intriguing images can be created in varying scenarios, so while you should understand how the theory works, do not be afraid to shoot again the grain.

Rule of Thirds Examples

To showcase how various photographers applied the rule of thirds to their own work, here are some examples of the composition theory below:

Tim Gouw
Kevin Noble
William Hope
Kuo Chiao
Tim Gouw

For your future images, consider using the rule of thirds technique to compose and frame your photographs. Try to think outside the box as to where the viewer’s eye will be drawn to and find the areas of focus within your portrait, still life or landscape image. Practice the rule of thirds to test your understanding of composition, but don’t be afraid to break the rules if you find a perspective that ignites your creativity.