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If you’ve been struggling to understand the rule of thirds, or if you’re simply looking for rule of thirds inspiration, you’ve come to the right place.
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The rule of thirds was designed to simplify artistic composition. The rule suggests that you break down scenes into nine equal parts separated by two evenly spaced horizontal and vertical lines, like this:
Important compositional elements can then be positioned along the lines of the grid, in the off-center rectangles, or at the grid’s intersections.
In this photograph of a native fern (above), the sharpest point aligns with the top-left intersection of the rule of thirds grid. This composition generates more interest and depth than a centered subject, engaging the viewer and guiding the eye.
In this street scene, the majority of the subjects are positioned in off-center rectangles. Additionally, the two white road lines roughly align with the two horizontal gridlines. This distribution of subjects activates the edges of the photograph, adding a sense of expansion and narrative.
The pattern in this decorative window suggests an overall uniformity. However, the clearest pattern elements are only visible in the upper-left corner of the rule of thirds grid.
This invites the viewer’s eye to explore the various intricate perspectives that make up the scene.
Here’s a fun rule of thirds example with an insect!
Insects can be tricky to photograph, but applying the rule of thirds can help create a more dynamic composition. If you compose with an insect off-center, you’ll capture a more natural image that alludes to the movement and life of a living creature.
One of the main reasons for observing the rule of thirds is to discourage photographers from placing a subject at the center of a photograph. With the help of the rule of thirds, you can create more engaging interactions between the image and the viewer.
We know the standard trajectory of an aircraft. But in the example above, by framing the subject off-center, I was able to generate a clear sense of motion.
There are many ways to increase the sense of depth in a photograph. By offsetting the sharply focused main subject (i.e., by following the rule of thirds!), you can achieve a sense of spaciousness and three-dimensionality throughout your image.
A lot is happening in the center of this image. However, the driving figure behind the central feature is positioned off to the left, creating a shadowy clue to the story behind the photograph.
Despite its name, the rule of thirds is more like a guide than an unbreakable law. In the image above, three ducks make their way across a thunderous cloudscape. However, while one of the ducks is precisely aligned with the right vertical of the grid, the other two ducks are positioned independently on either side.
Nevertheless, the offset position of the ducks counterbalances the weight of the storm clouds, creating a dramatic juxtaposition. It just goes to show that the rule of thirds can be a flexible guide rather than a rigid rule.
In this image, the emphasis is placed squarely on select areas of the flower. By positioning the subject away from the image center, you can draw the viewer’s eye toward the frame’s corners.
Every element in a composition has a weight, one that’s based on perceptions and real-life experience.
Darker, denser subject matter feels heavier than lighter, airier subject matter. Using the rule of thirds to group darker or lighter subject matter together in one area of an image can emphasize this weight. In the image above, lighter areas toward the bottom contrast with a dense area of shadow in the top third of the frame.
The canopy of leaves creates an engaging pattern, punctuated by the dark branches of trees – the heaviest of which are positioned toward the edges of the image.
With the help of the rule of thirds, this balance of lightness and heaviness creates an interesting and harmonious composition.
These rule of thirds examples can be a handy reminder that less is often more. By organizing subjects in accordance with the rule of thirds grid, you can give an image room to generate its own visual momentum.
This macro image of a lily contains plenty of information around the central area of the composition. However, additional off-center details make the most of the image space, adding a sense of expansive detail to the photograph.
Even abstract photography can benefit from the rule of thirds. Here, I’ve positioned an out-of-focus leaf so it intersects with the rule of thirds gridline.
When a scene is full of information, incorporating an area of reduced activity can add more depth.
So rather than aligning a subject with the rule of thirds grid, try aligning the grid with an emptier portion of the scene. This allows the viewer to visually digest the image and better grasp the scene’s context and behavior.
As these 15 rule of thirds examples have demonstrated, having a good grounding in compositional theory can be highly useful!
So while the rule of thirds is more like a guide than a strict rule, use it to help you arrange the various elements of your photos.
Now over to you:
Do you use the rule of thirds in your photography? Share some of your own rule of thirds examples in the comments below!