Break the Rule of Thirds - Digital Photography School
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Break the Rule of Thirds

SymmetryPhoto by straightfinder

The good old ‘rule of thirds‘ makes a lot of sense in many types of photography (if you don’t know what the rule of thirds is see out tutorial on it).

The Rule of Thirds does work well as a compositional rule in many situations – however placing your subject dead center in an image can also produce powerful and confronting images – particularly portraits where the subject is looking directly down the barrel or where you are presented with a scene with real symmetry like the one to the left.

Next time you’re out with your camera experiment with composing shots both to follow and break the rule of thirds – you’ll find in doing so you can end up with two very different interpretations of the same scene.

This post belongs to our series of posts on breaking rules of photography to get great images.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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  • AQ

    when you said: if you don’t know what the rule of thirds is see out tutorial on it don’t you mean our, not out?

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Some older comments

  • Bhanu Pratap Singh Panwar

    March 15, 2013 09:22 pm

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/64514261@N05/6926728058/' title='Dehradun, Forest Research Institute .' url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7189/6926728058_e4e5b40288.jpg']

    I have improved my photography skills a lot just by going through your blog everyday.

    Thanks a lot

  • Judith Davidson

    January 13, 2013 11:25 am

    There is soooo much to know about photography, it is more than just snapping the pix, rule of the thirds z very informative, focusing propertly, cropping, so much to know. Thank you!

  • Dave Keys

    January 2, 2013 03:47 pm

    Rule of thirds - schmule of thirds. It's a basic guide to improve the possibility of an outcome that follows the golden proportion- a natural sequence that may just as likely appear by accident when someone is composing a photo with an eye toward natural beauty. There is no rule of thirds. That's just a pattern interrupt for the snapshot photographer. A way of saying, "Think about what you're photographing and compose it so it's beautiful." The golden proportion is much more subtle and can be harder to do on purpose. It can appear not just in arrangement of objects in the frame, but in the way light is distributed or in multiple instances in portions of the photo. Yes I think of thirds on occasion and much more frequently I think of the golden ratio and how it might be expressed in my photography. Sometimes it comes out like I want and sometimes I'm sent back to Lightroom in humiliation, the desired effect hiding from the silly man who tried to capture the elusive beauty that was there to be enjoyed but would not be taken prisoner.

  • Rix

    December 17, 2011 03:02 am

    I think the rule should be ignored when one half of the photo is nearly symmetrical of the other - a good example is the first photo - a road with symmetrical lines to the right and to the left or a wharf (in both cases point of view should be on the center of the road/wharf)

  • Jose

    November 5, 2011 11:14 am

    I have been much more into painting than into photography, so far. In painting you need to keep a balance among the parts of the canvas. You couldn't leave a figure on a third and leave just backgroung on the rest. Why should it be different in a photo?Both are images..

  • Jessica Fitzpatrick

    March 25, 2011 05:09 am

    Thanks for this information, I am working on a project and this artical was very helpful. Once again, thank you.

  • ChristopherakaPaul

    March 13, 2011 01:18 pm

    Thank you for this article Mr. Rowse. PhOtOgraphy is both science and art and although science is bound by laws and rules, art is not limited to such constraints...

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/40322209@N07/5468401399/' title='KarEn FergUson - 11th December 2010 023' url='http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5295/5468401399_0a1674ed41_z.jpg']

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/40322209@N07/5219594153/' title='Emmanuel & Janelle - 27th November 2010 - pre-wedding shOOt 008' url='http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5170/5219594153_8760ff8209.jpg']

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/40322209@N07/4765671219/' title='Talon & Kay's Wedding - Chapter Three 177' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4117/4765671219_c001bd10d7.jpg']

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/40322209@N07/3721855811/' title='Speightstown Pier, Barbados, Sunset' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3525/3721855811_7ee7d5884f.jpg']

  • Mr. Photoman

    August 5, 2010 04:01 am

    Yeah! I was right! My friend told me never to break the rule of thirds, and I broke it a few times. She said that I'll be a bad photographer if I broke that rule...but she was wrong. Under certain circumstances the rule may be broken. Woot!

  • Brian

    May 15, 2010 06:42 pm

    Rule of thirds is just a teaching tool. Once you are done with your photojournalism class, just express yourself and be creative. If you are always shooting, and recomposing just to meet some stupid criteria, forget about it and just take the shot. Keep photography fun.

  • Walex

    May 5, 2010 11:36 am

    I like how everyone is bragging about breaking the rule of thirds and then proudly presenting examples of them only following it.

  • Lake Tahoe wedding photographer

    November 10, 2009 01:16 pm

    I agree that if you want to create a dynamic composition try to avoid placing a main subject in the center of the picture, but sometimes when you brake this rule you can get quite interesting results.

  • Mike Feddersen

    October 23, 2009 06:02 am

    Darren you are such a great giver, I think everyone is blessed by the info they receive from your blog.

    Navneeth made think of a post you could do that would be more or less of a learning experience from your various readers perspectives as well as your own. What I have in mind is a series of photos un-cropped that may or may not use a crop but how would the various students crop those photos? 10 random photos or carefully selected; everyone has their own idea of crop lines. I know Navneeth's photo above that they cropped if cropped by myself would have been more of a bottom left shot including much of the tree limb including the knotty protrusion.

    Just a thought.

    AZMike

    Do any of you need a simple way to use your photos in greeting cards? Check out the PicturePlus program at https://www.sendoutcards.com/cgi-bin/trncustomer.pl?static_pictureplus:81269:undefined

  • ombeni mbwambo

    September 5, 2009 03:38 am

    Im a college student of flim, video and television program so i think those program from your web will help me on big side thanks

  • Abhilash Manapatt

    October 14, 2008 11:03 pm

    Hi,

    Even if you say, you are going to "Break the Rules", you are NOT actually doing that.

    Well, my own experience has taught me that, these rules or the guidelines come into place somehow in most of the photographs that looks good for the average human eye.

    My point is,(what i have inferred), that if you break ONE rule, you actually say YES to another rule. So, In short, you are not breaking any rules.

    In this photo, you have placed the never ending road in dead centre, dividing the photograph in two equal parts of beautiful landscape - the overall effect is that you have broken the Rule of Third and yet, the photo looks great !!

    And the big fat TRUTH is that, if you have placed that road (main subject) off-centre following the Rule of Thirds, the photo might not have been as good as this one. So, it seems you have made a wiser choice by breaking the rules!!

    But, look at it again and you can see that YOU have effectively used the "Converging lines", even if the placement is at dead centre. The never-ending road, the "fence-like-series of white" things on either sides of the road and the total curvature of the road from down below to upwards (the natural line of sight) is the real reason why this picture looks better.

    The most important thing to note here, is that if you had moved to your left or right and had made the road (and the "fence") looked like a "diagonal line", with the green or the yellowish(other side) grass as background and making the viewer lead their view into the unknown(never ending road), it would have been a better photograph than the one you have here.

    It means, the rules (or guidelines) are arranged with some sort of a priority. When you visualise anything, your eye(or mind) wants to "see" that thing in a better way (most times) and for a photo like this, the eye prefers a "converging line" approach and thus the "rule of thirds" is of less priority.

    So, even if you break that low priority rule, you actually say YES to the top priority "converging lines" rule and thus make your photo beautiful.

    Well, this is what I think and I have experienced. I am not even a professional photographer, but I love to visualize things and I love to think out-of-the-box, and I believe that "there is some order in chaos!" ;)

  • cindy

    October 7, 2008 02:40 am

    this is a great website..i love to take pictues and all.but the most interacting thing that ibcant do is thAt the picture takes a long trime to focus and all

  • matt

    July 12, 2008 07:30 am

    On a related note, if the content of your photo is banal, the photograph will remain banal despite your efforts to compose it "correctly."

  • Kane

    July 11, 2008 02:37 am

    I agree with Evan, this photo seems to use the rule of thirds in a few interesting ways rather than shy away from it. The sky takes up about a third of the vertical space, then the ground is breken up into three equisized triangles; black, green and yellow. Still a lovely strong image.

  • evan

    February 26, 2008 12:16 pm

    I've gotta say, even though your subject isn't place on one of the lines or at an intersection, this photo is still so strong to me because of the rule of thirds. the road runs up the bottom two squares of the center column, the sky takes the top, and the greenery takes the side columns. Though its a different application I see this as employing the rule of thirds creatively but not breaking it.

  • eydryan

    August 11, 2007 06:43 am

    finally someone who understands that the rule of thirds is nothing more than a guideline and not the mecca of all photography... great post and a good attitude

  • Marlene Law

    August 10, 2007 03:57 pm

    Many thanks for this lovely photo. I turned it into a jigsaw puzzle. I am always looking for suitable pictures and this was a goodie.

  • Puplet

    August 8, 2007 08:55 pm

    I've found that, if you break the rule too much, many photographers start getting really upset. Was in an audition for a reality tv show about photography the other day, and this image solicited a really unhappy response from the other applicants...

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/38083475@N00/885918911/in/photostream/

  • Pix Plus

    August 8, 2007 01:16 pm

    This is one where I ALWAYS break it. The lines of the bridge with the couple centered seems more powerful to me than using the rule of thirds.
    http://pixplus.zenfolio.com/p1036820614/?photo=h324E496F#843991407
    http://pixplus.zenfolio.com/p1036820614/?photo=h2D4405F2#759432690

  • Fredrik Ohlin

    August 8, 2007 03:09 am

    For a while I couldn't figure out how straightfinder's picture above was an example of breaking the rule of thirds. Even though the road is centered horizontally, I kept looking at the horizon itself, which is actually placed about a third from the top. Symmetry an asymmetry working together I suppose. :)

  • Navneeth

    August 8, 2007 02:57 am

    oops...missed the 'at an angle' post.

  • Ed O'Keeffe

    August 8, 2007 02:54 am

    I usually shoot along the rule of thirds but probably 5 - 10% of pictures could be framed to break the rule of thirds. I recently took some very similar photographs to the one above up in Scotland, not yet on my website but thanks for reminding me, I'll blog them in the next few days for sure. Thanks for the post

  • Tim Harris

    August 8, 2007 02:19 am

    Your example seems to obey the rule-of-thirds, just vertically instead of horizontally. I guess you can apply the rule to the background separately from the foreground. I think breaking this rule works quite well, especially in portraiture.

  • Nick

    August 8, 2007 01:37 am

    Yup - this is one I'm always conscious of but don't live by as evidenced by:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalknave/449497973/in/set-72157600053731866/

    The rule of thirds does help, especially if you've got a single main subject in the frame, but I'd hte to use it for everything.

  • Navneeth

    August 8, 2007 01:04 am

    I was expecting this to be the first post in this series. :D

    In fact, when I got the camera, I did not know about the Rule of the Thirds and always centred my subject (isn't that the obvious thing one would do?), and ended up with this picture. After a little advice from people who knew better, I cropped it to this. Having known about the rule for sometime, I try to incorporate it in most of my photos, and try to get a good picture by breaking it, every now and then.

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