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Using the Rule of Thirds to Take Eye-Catching Photos

rule of thirds

Photography can be very rewarding. Seeing your photos come alive as your photography techniques improve can motivate you to create works of art by taking pictures of more than just family and friends. For example, you can take pictures of dragonflies or flowers that would make great decor for your home or gifts for family members on special occasions.

One of the best ways to improve your photography dramatically is to use the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds will help you capture more professional-looking, creative photos. It is a time-honored technique to help you compose your photographs and make them more aesthetically pleasing. But what exactly is the rule of thirds, how do you use it, and what are some tips for creating eye-catching photos? We can help with that.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The rule of thirds is made up of two horizontal and two vertical lines that intersect one another at equal distances. This divides your image into thirds whether you view it horizontally or vertically. Another way to look at it is nine blocks stacked three to a row. This forms a grid that can be shown over your subject through either the viewfinder or on the live display screen.

The best way to compose a photo is to arrange the subject of your image near one of the four intersections made by the lines.

The theory is that offsetting the center of your photo looks more natural and is more aesthetically pleasing to the human eye than a photo with the subject set dead center in the image. The rule of thirds also allows you to be more creative with the empty areas around your subject, also called negative space.

Put Your Skills to the Test

The rule of thirds is easy to implement. If your digital camera has the ability to show the grid on an image, either through the viewfinder or on the display screen, all you have to do is line up the main subject of your photo as close as possible to one of the intersections of the grid.

For example, if you are taking a picture of a landscape with a building in it, the building should be placed at one of the four intersections in the grid, allowing the rest of the image to fill the remaining blocks.

This technique works well for just about any image. It can be used to accent a person in a candid image or to show off a landscape. You can even spice up a photo of the horizon by lining it up with the bottom horizontal line in the grid instead of centering it between the two horizontal lines.

Photograph Like a Pro

It’s important to remember that the rule of thirds is more of a guideline or rule of thumb than an actual rule. You don’t have to use it in every photo, and some photos will be more appealing if you don’t use it. Knowing when to use the rule makes all the difference. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Give your subject breathing room. When taking photos of people, it’s best to align your subject with one of the vertical lines. And make sure the subject is looking into the picture, not out of it. This gives the subject some breathing room in the photo and shows the environment around them, giving it context. It also prevents your portraits from looking like mug shots.
  • Draw viewers to your subject's eyes. Since people are naturally drawn to the human eye, you can use this to your advantage when taking a portrait or candid shot. Line up one of the intersections with the subject’s eye to add visual interest to the photo and draw the viewer’s focus to your subject's face.
  • Off-center a nature photo for optimum impact. If you’re interested in nature photography, the rule of thirds will help you compose the perfect image. For example, when taking a picture of a colorful flower, use the intersections to center the focus on the flower.
  • Balance the image with negative space. The same technique can be used when photographing a tree or lighthouse. You can line the subject up with one of the vertical lines, allowing the empty space to balance the image and prevent it from looking crowded.

Print Like a Pro

Knowing the rule of thirds is also key to preparing a great photo for printing. The finished width to height ratio of printed items such as a traditionally framed 8x10 photograph or more unique items like a 2 1/2 x 5 inch photo phone case may not exactly match the proportions of your well composed original image. Very often, additional cropping and repositioning will be required to take full advantage of the space available. The better you understand techniques like the rule of thirds and have developed an eye for composition, the more professional your finished product will look.

If you’re just beginning with photography, the rule of thirds is a great way to improve your photos. Practice using this rule on various subjects including people and landscapes to perfect your technique. Soon, you’ll turn heads with your photos and have plenty of artwork to gift to friends and family or to display on your wall.

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