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Rule of Thirds
Composition, Manual Mode Tips

One of the easiest ways to make your photos more appealing is to follow the “rule of thirds” for composition. Now that you know how to change your focal point that won’t be a problem.

When I was first learning about photography, I read an article stating that the human eye is naturally drawn to the top, bottom, right, or left third of a picture. Take a look around at some of the most famous paintings, the odds are they use the rule of thirds. The article I read used the Mona Lisa as an example. Her eyes are in the top third of the photo. Imagine how boring that painting would have been if her eyes were in the dead center of the painting.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mona_Lisa.jpg

One thing I have found very interesting after learning this rule is that television and movies use this rule as well. I mean, of course that makes sense, since it is all a form of photography. Have you ever noticed that when you are watching a show and they are showing a conversation between two people but only one person is on the screen at a time, they are in the right or left third?? Very interesting.

Several post-processing (PP) programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom (my new favorite) have a grid that can be displayed over your photo to check your composition. This is also very useful when cropping.

Ideally, you want the eyes to be where the vertical and horizontal line join. It’s easier said then done sometimes.

Horizontal/Landscape photos:
You want your subject’s eyes or focus to be in the right or left third.
rule of thirds backlighting-2

rule of thirds-2

rule of thirds window-2

Vertical/Portrait photos:
You want your subject’s eyes or focus is in the top or bottom third.
rule of thirds vertical-2

rule of thirds spinning-2

rule of thirds black and white-2

Another thing to keep in mind is that your subject is “looking into the frame”. You want there to be empty space for your subject to look at. Same thing applies if if your subject is moving. You want to give them room to “go”.

Looking into the frame:
DSC_8404

DSC_8267

Looking out of the frame: Do not do.
DSC_5420

Leaving room to “go”
DSC_8165
Please remember that if you take a photo and the subject isn’t looking into the frame or isn’t in a third of a picture, that doesn’t mean you have to trash it. Some of my favorite pictures of my kids aren’t technically correct and they are breaking the rules. Who cares! I love them anyway.

Grab your camera and start practicing. Come back on Friday to join in the Picture Share so we can see your amazing pictures!!!

40 Comments
  • September 22, 2010 at 1:55 AM

    This is great info. I knew about thirds, but this gives more in depth information. Thank you.

    • September 22, 2010 at 8:54 AM

      So glad you found it useful!!

  • September 26, 2010 at 7:33 AM

    The picture with your younger daughter sitting on the chair outside, did you use a certain editing technique to make the background blurred like it is or was that solely the result of the aperature? I’ve seen pictures like that and have always wondered how the photographer achieved that?

    • September 26, 2010 at 8:18 PM

      That was achieved by opening up my aperture (it was a low number) I am currently in Tokyo, so I can’t tell you what it was set at but I will check when I get home :O) I don’t use any editing techinques to blur my background it is always done with the aperture. Do you know the lowest number you can set your aperture to? I’m not sure what kind of camera and/or lens you have but if you have a DSLR, which ever lens you have on with determine the lowest number aperture you can set it at. Hope that helps!!

  • September 26, 2010 at 10:58 PM

    I’ve got a 50mm f1.8 lens. I’m able to get a blurry background but some of yours look almost like little circles of blur. Maybe its because of the lighting. Mine always seem to just be a blurry matte look.

    • September 27, 2010 at 8:10 AM

      Great! A 50mm 1.8 will be able to get you want you want. Yes, you are right sometimes I am able to get the blurry circles (bokeh). That depends on your lighting that is coming through the background. A good way to get that would be to find an area where the sun is shining through the trees, position your subject in front of the trees and you should be able to get some nice bokeh. Good luck!

  • September 27, 2010 at 10:15 PM

    Thank you! I will give that a try this week!!

    • September 28, 2010 at 8:33 AM

      Hope you share a photo so we can see your work :O)

  • Martin
    January 19, 2011 at 5:15 AM

    For the pictures above did you use the centre focus point and recompose or did you use the off centre focus point?

    I will look at your ‘changing focal point’ article as there may be something in there. Ta

  • kathy
    July 31, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    Hi, i was wondering if you could recommend a free editing place. I would use the good ones like photoshop and so on but i really dont want to pay for them.

    • July 31, 2011 at 11:19 PM

      Hey Kathy!! I have not personally used any of the free editing sites however, I have heard that several of my readers like Picasa.com. I understand not wanting to dive into an editing program and investing the money on one just yet. Keep an eye out because sometimes they go on sale big time :O)

  • kathy
    August 1, 2011 at 7:53 AM

    Thank you for you advice,
    yes i think i might just wait for a sale! :)

  • […] Putting subject in dead center of the image. Remember the rule of thirds? It’s their for a reason :O) It helps to add a little more interest to your image. I have so […]

  • October 17, 2011 at 8:24 PM

    What a great idea Courtney, I just came across your blog via the fractal of the internet and only just realized it’s in Oki! What great info!

    • October 21, 2011 at 1:41 PM

      What a small world!! Yes, we’ve been here for two years and are loving it here :O)

  • January 22, 2012 at 5:52 PM

    This is brilliant! I’ve going to read this over & over until its drummed in! Task of the week for me now ; ) Practise! Thank you

  • Dina
    February 25, 2012 at 1:45 AM

    I was just told about this site and I am so excited! This site is wonderful and I can’t wait to read everything you have to offer. Great job!!

    • Courtney
      February 25, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      Welcome!! I hope you can find some useful information here! Let me know if you have any questions!

  • March 13, 2012 at 6:40 PM

    see it just goes to show how much i know about photography yet xD i’ve never even heard of this concept till now.

    • Courtney
      March 14, 2012 at 2:07 PM

      No worries :O) That is what I’m for :O) Let me know if you have any questions!!

  • March 14, 2012 at 5:47 AM

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  • September 4, 2012 at 2:46 PM

    Question: if you focus (meter) on the eyes in the photo to get those the clearest, it then natural puts them in the middle of the frame to one side or the other (depending if you metered on the left side or the right side). So do you meter on the eyes then move the camera to put them in the top 1/3? I must be missing something here. Hope this makes sense. Thanks in advance for your response.

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  • December 1, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    This was a great article. Explains it so well.

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  • Kcaarin
    September 3, 2014 at 10:13 PM

    I’ve been practicing the rule of thirds with the grid on my camera (Canon T2i) It has really helped me to ‘see’ better. You can also move the focal point with this camera. :) Thanks for the helpful post!

  • September 5, 2014 at 9:48 PM

    I love the photos from your kids… i wish mine would let take them some photos, they just run away… :D

    • September 9, 2014 at 9:31 AM

      I get that. I learned long ago not to expect much from them when I pull out the camera and we have all been much happier.

  • Kaylin
    April 1, 2015 at 5:39 PM

    Hi! I’m VERY new to photography but had a quick question. Is there any special technique you used to capture the girl’s reflection in the first picture under “Looking into the frame” where she’s looking out the window?

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