Composition Week, Day 1: Rule of Thirds

Text-book Rule of Thirds composition


[Editors Note: This week we have Rob Knight on a weeklong series of composition tips just for you. We’ll have one article a day starting today Sunday, and continuing all the way thru Saturday!]

How much research did you do before you bought your last camera? How about the last lens you bought, or even the last camera bag? How much time have you devoted to learning the latest Photoshop tricks or perfecting your HDR workflow? There are endless resources online about the technical aspects of making photos, and I’ve read at least half of them! Now… how much time have you spent lately thinking about composition? I find that my students generally have a lot of questions about camera settings and lens choices, and very few questions about how to compose better pictures.

Don’t get me wrong- I don’t think that your photos should be bound by strict RULES, but I think you should be familiar with some basic visual tools. If some of these elements are new to you, I’ll bet that you can look back through your favorite images and find that you employed some of these ideas instinctively. You may think that these elements are unnecessary because you have a “good eye”, but if you apply these visual tools to your already “good eye” you can learn to express your vision in a more effective and compelling way.

Day 1… Rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds is fairly simple to understand. Imagine a grid over your image that divides your frame into thirds vertically and horizontally. Your subject should be placed along one of the gridlines, or where the gridlines intersect, and the horizon should be along one of the horizontal lines.

Here's the same shot with a rule of thirds grid overlay


You don’t have to apply the rule of thirds in such a literal way. Think of it as a good reminder to keep your subject out of the “dead center” of the frame, and keep your horizon from dividing the picture in half. Even without using the exact thirds of the frame, your composition will be more interesting and dynamic if you think about these ideas when you are framing a photo.

The next time you are shooting a portrait try using the rule of thirds. Place the subject’s body along one of the vertical lines, and their eyes in line with one of the horizontal lines, then have them face slightly toward the center of the frame.


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This post was written by:

- who has written 23 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Rob Knight is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop Lightroom and a two-time Photoshop Guru finalist. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Rob loves to travel and share his passion for photography with others. You can follow Rob on twitter @RobKnightPhoto, and find out about Rob's classes and photo workshops at Rob Knight Photography

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