Rule of Thirds

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.

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:


Looking out of the frame: Do not do.

Leaving room to “go”
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!!!

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

  2. 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?

    • 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!!

  3. 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.

    • 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!

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

  5. 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

  6. 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.

    • Hey Kathy!! I have not personally used any of the free editing sites however, I have heard that several of my readers like 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)

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

  8. 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!

  9. 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
    Carly Bevan recently posted..Michael & Rosie

  10. 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!!

  11. see it just goes to show how much i know about photography yet xD i’ve never even heard of this concept till now.
    Jenny recently posted..It’s a Me!!

  12. 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.

  13. This was a great article. Explains it so well.
    Candy recently posted..Black Friday Sale 2013

  14. 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!

  15. I love the photos from your kids… i wish mine would let take them some photos, they just run away… :D
    Silvina recently posted..{Un momento…}


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