I have seen a great evil in the world of point and shoot photography. I have seen this evil ensnare unwitting victims. I have watched cameras tempt photographers into this evil with the allure of ease and simplicity. I have myself fallen into this evil, and as a result wasted much time and energy. What is this heinous evil??? Centering. The desire to put the subject of the photograph in the dead center of the picture.
I can already hear some of you asking what in the world I am talking about. Why wouldn’t you put the subject right in the center. Isn’t that where it needs to be so everyone will see it? Don’t you want to make sure that you have the whole thing in the picture? You are right, you should always center your subject, if you want your picture to be boring and humdrum and just like 3 bazillion other pictures on the planet. However, if you want your picture to pop and catch people’s attention then at all costs avoid placing your subject in the center of the picture. (OK, I admit that is going a bit too far, but we’ll talk about that later.) To help us understand where to put the subject, or objects of interests, some dead guy invented the rule of thirds. Here’s what the rule of third looks like in action.
That tic tac toe grid on the picture marks the lines reflecting the top, bottom, left and ride thirds of the image. Instead of placing the hummingbird dead center in the picture, the hummingbird has been placed on the right third line, with the head close to the conjuction of the right and bottom third. That is the rule of third in action, don’t place your subject in the center, place it on one of those third lines. In any good group of intersecting lines, there are points of conjuction. (You can’t go wrong when making a statement that obvious) When appying the rule of thirds to an image, there are four points where the four lines cross each other. Those four points are your prime interest spots. I don’t know why it is, but our brains are wired to like images with the main focal point at one of those four spots. So if you want people to find your pictures appealing, put your focal point at one of those four prime points. Here’s how the rule of thirds works in portraits.
In taking pictures of individuals, this rule of thirds becomes super simple. Put the eyes at the conjuction of one of those prime points (usually one of the top two points). We are naturally drawn to the eyes, so if the eyes are sharp, clear and on one of the prime points the picture will capture your attention. Line up the rest of the features down the third line and you should have a very pleasing picture. The example worked out particularly well with the nose, mouth and chin going straight down the left third line.
The rules of thirds does not just apply to people and wildlife photos, it applies in landscape photography as well.
In landscape photography, use the third lines to help you position your horizons or other lines of interest (like the fence). The rules of thirds also helps you arrange other objects in the picture. The tree in the foggy photograph helps the picture because it roughly follows the right third line. The rule of thirds does not just apply to items that make a fairly nice straight line. It works for colors, foliage, constrasting points and any other mass of interest. In the lighthouse image not only is the lighthouse on a thrid line, but to give the picture some depth the mass of lilacs has been placed in the foreground and it covers the bottom right conjuction.
The rule of thirds provides a nice framework for you to use in composing your image. Shifting your focal point and objects of interest out of the middle to the thirds will make your pictures stand out. This may not seem to be that big a deal, especially if you have no intention of doing anything more than putting the pickers on facebook or in a photo album. It really is a big deal, though. If you want others to see some of the same excitement that captured your attention, you need to compose the picture to communicate properly. The rules of thirds is one of the easiest methods to implement for drawing and keeping attention in your photographs. This is not about making fine art, it is just about making pictures interesting, so use the rules of thirds. One final thought, using the rules of thirds will also free you up to be more creative in your pictures. Get out of the middle and get creative.