The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

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The rule of thirds is one of the most fundamental rules of photographic composition. Who else and who mentioned it least, although you may not know exactly what it means. In the following lines, we explain what the rule of thirds consists of and how you can apply it to dramatically improve your photographic compositions. Your photos will never be the same once you understand what it is and how it works.

The Famous Rule of the Tercios

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

The rule of thirds is one of the best-known composition rules in the world of photography. It is one of the first compositional resources to discover, and probably one of the first to learn so much for its simplicity and effectiveness in its results.

The Rule of Thirds is a simple means of approaching the Golden Ratio which refers to the distribution of the space within the image that is more attractive in relation to the center of interest generated.

With the rule of thirds, you can give your photographs a deeper depth and achieve a better balance by directing the viewer’s eye directly to the point of most interest.

What Exactly Does the Rule of Thirds Consist?

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

Look at one of your photos you took and divide it mentally into three horizontal and one-third verticals. The image is divided into 9 equal parts, and the four intersections of these lines are those that set the appropriate points to place the center or centers of interest of our photo. In this way we break with the usual habit of placing our motif or protagonist element right in the middle of the frame.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

Each of these four points of intersection are called strengths . When we are taking a photo, if there is only a single point of interest, it is preferable to place it in one of the four points of intersection mentioned instead of directly in the center of the photo. This usually generates more attraction in the viewer than when the center of interest is in the center of the photograph.

What if I have several Interest Centers?

If there are two centers of interest in the photo, it is advisable to look for two of these points, and whenever possible, opposite, forming a diagonal in the photo. Let’s see it better with an example.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

What do I get by applying the rule of the thirds?

Not all of your photos are useful for applying the rule of thirds, but in general, your pictures will be more attractive because:

  • It creates a sense of balance.
  • The image gains in interest and complexity, as if we simply put the subject or object in the middle of the picture.
  • The photo has more power and energy.
  • The image gains in depth and stops being flat.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

Some Illustrative Examples

I could talk to you long and hard about the rule of thirds, but without a picture that illustrates it, it would not be worth much. Below are some practical examples with the corresponding comments.

We have a habit of placing the elements in the middle of the frame, thinking that this will make more sense, but that’s not entirely true. A very recurring case is when we take photos of, for example, the sea line or a mountain range.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

Let us see this picture. The protagonist of the picture is clearly the city, which we could fit exactly into the central rectangle of the picture. However, this would have meant that another big attraction of the picture, the sky with clouds so blue, would have gone very unnoticed. If we place the city at the lower point of interest on the right side, our gaze goes to it, but then you can admire the beautiful sky. In this case, the rule of thirds is closely linked to the horizon rule.

The question of placing the protagonist element in one of the most interesting points in order to win in composition arises not only in photographing landscapes, but also in portraits.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

Imagine that you are going to take a picture in which your subject or protagonist is in the middle of the frame. The photo lacks harmony, it lacks balance. Try to change the frame and place it in one of the points of interest, either because it is perceived that the subject will go to that direction, or because it is simply at that point that gives balance to the composition.

Do not you think that the image is quite more attractive? Whoever sees it now knows exactly where to look first, it is clear which is the focus of interest.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

When did I apply the Rule of the Thirds?

Surely more than once you have heard the famous phrase “I fix that later in Photoshop”.  Of course, you can follow the rule of thirds when you go to edit the photo, but like everything else, it will be best to apply it at the time of the photo .

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

Do not worry if you can not see the viewfinder or the screen of your camera where those imaginary points are located. It’s normal to taste something first, but over time you get exercise. Most SLRs have some guides in the viewer that allow you to capture the references you need.

There is even someone who sticks a transparent sticker on the screen with some markings on them, as help can be very useful. Of course it is not necessary.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

Another option as we anticipated you a moment ago, although it is only recommended in certain cases, is to perform a reframing later with photo retouching programs such as Photoshop or Lightroom .

More Examples on the Use of the Rule of the Tercios

Let us look at some practical applications of the rule of thirds. The first case we see with a landscape photo. The shot was taken in Monument Valley, and we can see the three rock formations in this valley stand out, especially the two closer to the camera. You could have stood in the middle, but by doing it in this way and placing it in the second third of the horizon, we gain in balance. In addition to this form, the beam could be detected in its fullness.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

Another example is that of flower photography. As you can see in the following examples it is always good to place the center of attention in one of the points of interest.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

Although in this case there are also occasions in which placing the flower in the center and filling the frame can give strength to the photograph.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

In portraits the rule of thirds usually works very well. You can place another point of interest with which the subject interacts, or simply leave empty space in that part.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

In this other photo we have a protagonist located in one of the main points contemplating the landscape before him. Here to follow the rule of the thirds we have gained in depth, and we also avoid hiding one of the main reasons for the landscape, the lake.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

If, on the other hand, the view the subject has is not too relevant, then you can skip the rule and place your subject in the center.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

In this case I will tell you that you will find more examples in which the rule of the thirds is not followed, but depending on the elements of the environment, following it can be as or more interesting.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

One of the exceptions in which in most cases it is usually better to place the focus of interest in the center is when there are symmetrical elements in our frame. Reflections, parallel lines … look at the following examples and see for yourself.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

And why not? Sometimes you simply want the center of interest to be right in the center.

The Rule of the Thirds: What It Is and How to Use It

The Rules Are for Breaking

Now that we’ve explained what the rule of thirds is and how its application can help you improve the composition of your images, it’s time to tell you that the rules break them.

The rules in photography are a kind of help to get us to better photographic results, that’s clear. Once you know it, once you know how to use it and make the most of it, it’s time for you to assess whether your next picture must be affected, or that, on the contrary, you violate this rule new vision and more. creative

The rules should break them. Know them, apply them, improve yourself and learn with them … and if you do, you can use them in your pictures or not to achieve the purpose you are aiming for.

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