Robert Boughen | Photography Tips: "Rule of Thirds"

Photography Tips: "Rule of Thirds"

January 24, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

As has been repeatedly mentioned in this blog, photographs are about story telling, and story telling must have a subject. The way that we frame a photo and what we chose to include will affect the way our subject is viewed and how our story is told.  The "Rule of Thirds", which segments images into nine zones, is the first stop for composing our photographs. Where we put our subject in relation to these thirds is a deeply important part of a photo, as the eyes of a viewer are naturally attuned to search for the subject in particular areas of the photo. Placing a subject centrally can often be an effective way of helping the viewer to easily identify the subject of the photo, but it might not necessarily tell the story the way we want it to, and often leads to blank spaces in the photo which tell us nothing. Generally speaking, subjects are most effective when placed along the axis of the segmented zones, usually at the intersections as these are points the human eye is naturally drawn to.

The below picture is a good example of these rules applied to a portrait. Here, the subject is quite clearly the girl, and this is helped by placing her directly down the right-third axis, with her face close to right-upper intersection, which is one of the points the eyes are naturally drawn to. This immediately engages the viewer with the subject. The rest of the photo is left to fill in the gaps of the story; in this case mainly about her occupation and her surroundings. Were she to be framed centrally, though she would be the obvious subject still, the content on the left would be lost, and blank space would be created on the right.


Taken in Kenema, Sierra Leone (Dec 2015)


The "Rule of Thirds" is not the be-all-and-end-all of photographic composition. Indeed, to quote Pirates of the Caribbean, "they are more what you'd call guidelines than an actual set of rules", and the needs of your story-telling will often lead to you breaking them. But they are a useful, and simple way to tell your stories, and naturally play to the viewer's eyes.

Another effective way we can get the viewer's eyes onto our subject is to literally lead them there. This can be especially useful if our subject is not immediately obvious, or if we have had to break the "Rule of Thirds". The human eye will naturally follow lines that it sees; this is how the "Rule of Thirds" works, as the human eye draws segments on a straight-edged surface without them even being there. But lets be more obvious, and not make our viewer's work so hard. How about we literally draw out a line for them to follow in the photograph? I don't mean that you should get out your sharpie and draw on your prints, but rather frame an obvious line in your photo. The most obvious of these lines are roads, but they can take on varied forms; so long as they are consistent, relatively straight, and point towards your subject. A tall tower might do the trick, or rows of lavender plants growing in the fields of Southern France. You can get really creative with lines, and whenever you place them in an image you can almost guarantee your viewers will follow them.

Below are two examples of roads as leading lines. In the first example, the road is less important, as One World Trade Center could also be considered a leading line, is already sitting along the right-third axis, and is the subject of the photograph. Nonetheless, the road (Hudson Street) still leads us onto the right-third axis from the left-third axis, thereby inviting the viewer to across the entire image before reaching its subject. This, in effect, takes you down the Hudson Street towards One World Trade Center, giving a sense of motion and purpose.

In the second image, the road is the leading line that takes your through the landscape, veering around from the centre to the right and back to the left, leaving you at the left-third axis and suggesting that the sun that is so gloriously lighting up the landscape is the subject of the photograph. I hope this explanation and examples have given you some ideas about how to apply the "Rule of Thirds" and leading lines in your photos. Let me know what you made of my examples, and post your own on my Facebook wall.


Taken in New York City, USA (Dec 2016)


Take in Sillé-le-Guillaume, France (Jan 2017)


No comments posted.

January February March April May June July August September (9) October (8) November (1) December (2)
January (1) February (1) March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December