Rule of Thirds in Photography Explained

Photography is so much more than just clicking a button or playing with exposure settings. Photography is a way to show your personal view of the world, capture a memory, and create art. All of which requires properly composing your shot! Composition has rules, and the biggest rule every photographer must know is called the Rule of Thirds. Let’s explore!

What is the Rule of Thirds? 

To explain the Rule of Thirds, we must first define composition. Composition is the relationship between the arrangement of all of the elements in your photograph. Basically, composition describes how your subject is placed in relation with everything else in the picture. 

Composition can be pleasing or it can be poor. Pleasing composition is easy on the eye and attracts people to look at your photograph. Poor or bad composition looks awkward, doesn’t attract viewers, and tends to shy people away from an otherwise good photograph. 

Composition has rules in order to be effective. The Rule of Thirds is the most basic compositional rule. 

This rule states that if you divide your photograph evenly into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, the subject of the image needs to be placed at the intersection of the dividing lines. Any of the intersections! But it must be at an intersection. 

If you’re capturing a landscape, however, the rule states that the horizon line needs to sit on one of the horizontal lines. 

The idea is that this provides the most accurate amount of negative space. Negative space describes all of the parts of your photograph that do not have your subject in it. 

When Should You Break It? 

Rules are meant to be broken- but of course, you must first understand the rule prior to knowing when to break it. 

Not all compositions fit perfectly within the rule of thirds, and this is especially true with action photography. Action photography has an implied sense of movement. This describes the direction that you think the movement will go in a still image. For example, if a dog is running to the left in a picture, the implied sense of movement is towards the left. 

How this factors into composition is that you always want to leave more negative space in the direction of implied movement. This keeps your photograph from feeling claustrophobic or too abruptly cropped. This may not always fit perfectly in the rule of thirds. 

Another situation in which you would break the Rule of Thirds is if you’re doing abstract photography or photography with a lot of patterns. When there is no defined subject, like in a photograph of a pattern, there is no way to apply the Rule of Thirds.

Finally, you can easily break the Rule of Thirds by using leading lines to lead the viewer’s eye to your subject. At that point, the rest of the composition matters a bit less. 


In conclusion, use the Rule of Thirds as a guide to help you create beautiful and effective compositions! But keep in mind that this rule will not apply to every image you capture, so breaking the rules is okay too!

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