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Rule of Thirds Definition & Examples


Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the main “rules” in art and photographic composition and stems from the theory that the human eye naturally gravitates to intersection points that occur when an image is split into thirds.

I’d like to note that I’d rather define this compositional technique as a guideline rather than a rule, but for the sake of consistency with other photography sources, I’ll continue to call it the rule of thirds.

Rule of Thirds Definition

In the rule of thirds, photos are divided into thirds with two imaginary lines vertically and two lines horizontally making three columns, three rows, and nine sections in the images. Important compositional elements and leading lines are placed on or near the imaginary lines and where the lines intersect.

When taking a photograph with the rule of thirds in mind, it’s always best to compose the photograph in the camera. This is so that you can avoid cropping later to retain as much of the image as possible and avoid reducing the quality of your photographs. However, I encourage going back to some of your older photography and seeing if you can improve them by cropping in a way to make them use the rule of thirds technique.

Rule of Thirds Grid

Rule of Thirds Grid

Rule of Thirds Examples

Rule of Thirds Example: Landscapes

When taking a picture of a landscape, it’s natural to want to center the horizon in the frame. However, pictures often look better if the horizon falls on the upper or lower horizontal dividing line. If the focus of your image is on land (i.e. mountains, buildings), the horizon should fall near the upper third and if the focus is the sky (i.e. sunsets, sunrises), the horizon should fall near the lower third.

Here is an example of the rule of thirds for a landscape photo. The focus is on the land area rather than the sky so the bottom two-thirds of the photograph are filled with land and the top third is sky.

Rule of Thirds Landscape

Rule of Thirds Example: Portraits

Here is an example of a rule of thirds portrait. As you can see, the eyes are lined up with the upper horizontal line and each eye is where the upper horizontal line intersects with a vertical line.

Rule of Thirds Portrait