Photography & Filming

How to Apply the Popular Rule of Thirds to Your Photography | Click it Up a Notch®

One of the easiest ways to make your photography more appealing is to follow the rule of thirds for composition. Now that you know how to change your focal point that won’t be a problem.

What is the Rule of Thirds in Photography?

The rule of thirds is a composition guide to help you draw your viewer into your photo.

It creates a 9 piece square grid and can be done horizontally or vertically. This allows the focus to go to the subject and leaves the rest of the photograph less busy or “open.”

A 9 Square Grid

Now let’s break it down. For this composition rule you will break your images into a 9 square grid. Think of it like a tic tac toe board.

Some cameras offer this type of overlay when you look through your viewfinder. That is very handy.

rule of thirds grid for photography

If your camera does not, no worries. You can just imagine a tic-tac-toe board placed over your photo. You can also use the focal points as a guide as well.

Where to put your subject for Rule of Thirds

Ideally you want to place your subject on one of the thirds of the image. Just like you see in the photo above, the subject is in the left third leaving the other two thirds mostly open.

When using the rule of thirds photography as a guide your subject will not be in the dead center of your picture.

Points of Interest in Rule of Thirds

There are four points of interest when using the rule of thirds and those are at the intersecting points.

rule of thirds grid highlighting four points of interest

In an ideal situation you would place your subject on one of these points of interest. However, when photographing kids or something else that is moving it isn’t always possible. That is perfectly fine.

Try to get the eyes of your subject to be where the vertical and horizontal line join. It’s easier said than done sometimes.

Just for you: 4 Unique Framing Photography Composition Ideas for Creative Photos

Just a guide not a rule

Remember this is just a guide. It isn’t a hard and fast rule. Plus, you can always adjust your image in post processing if you want to make sure your subject is on one of the points of interest. We’ll talk more about that later.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s possible to have a mine point of interest and then place something else on an option intersecting point. This creates an invisible diagonal and since our minds are always looking for shapes this helps it to make sense to us.

rule of thirds grid subject on upper left hand side

You will see rule of thirds everywhere

One thing I have found very interesting after learning the rule of thirds is that television and movies use this rule as well. I mean, of course that makes sense, since it is all a form of photography.

Have you ever noticed that when you are watching a show and they are showing a conversation between two people but only one person is on the screen at a time, they are in the right or left third?? Very interesting.

Post Processing for Rule of Thirds

Several post-processing (PP) programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom have a grid that can be displayed over your photo to check your composition. This is also very useful when cropping.

This comes in handy if you were trying to get a toddler to line up with your points and they just kept moving. No problem! Try to leave a little extra room in the frame.

Then use the overlay that shows up in Lightroom when you click on the crop tool. Then you can just crop the photo to make it right!

How to use the Rule of Thirds in Landscape Shots

Landscape shots don’t have a clear subject so it makes it a bit more of a challenge to know what to put on the points of interests.

When shooting landscape images I challenge you to put the horizon on the upper or lower third.

You can also apply these same rules to group photos. Making sure you have equal amounts of sky, ground, and people!

In fact, each time you shoot a landscape shot consider taking one shot of each. Here are a few examples below of landscape shots using the rule of thirds.

rule of thirds example of landscape shot at the beach

These two shots show you the importance of trying the horizon on both the upper and lower third as one is stronger than the other but I wouldn’t have captured it if I hadn’t challenged myself to try both.

landscape shot using rule of thirds of beach in hawaii

Rule of Thirds Picture Examples

Horizontal/Landscape photos

For horizontal or landscape photos you want your subject’s eyes or focus point to be in the right or left third of the grid.

Doing this leaves the other two thirds open without a subject in them. Which immediately makes a viewer drawn to your subject.

horizontal photo example of rule of thirds

Vertical or Portrait photos

For vertical or portrait photos you want your subject’s eyes or focus in the top or bottom third.

rule of third example with subject eyes on upper third
rule of thirds example with subject on lower right third

Looking into the frame

rule of thirds photo example with subject looking into the frame

Another thing to keep in mind is that your subject is “looking into the frame”.

Child standing near window with a reflection coming back at her.

You want there to be empty space for your subject to look at. Same thing applies if your subject is moving. You want to give them room to “go”.

This is an example of someone looking into the frame, and then followed by the subject not looking into the frame.

Child in yellow dress looking into the left side of the frame.

And this is an example of the subject looking out of the frame, this is what NOT to do.

Child crying looking out of the frame as an example of what not to do in rule of thirds

See more: 8 Composition Photography Mistakes to avoid

Leave room to go

Below is an example of “leaving room to go.” The child has plenty of room in the frame to let the viewer see the action.

Child playing with cars on a play mat in a striped dress.

Rule of Thirds is just a guide!

Please remember that if you take a photo and the subject isn’t looking into the frame or isn’t in a third of a picture, that doesn’t mean you have to trash it.

Some of my favorite pictures of my kids aren’t technically correct and they are breaking the rules. Who cares! I love them anyway.

Speaking of kids, you can teach this composition rule to them too! Read more about how to involve your children here: Photography for Kids

Grab your camera and start practicing!

Read more on Composition

11 Photography Composition Rules to Know to Improve your Photography
3 Ways Negative Space Will Enhance Your Photography
Story Telling Through Light, Emotion, and Composition
Over 100 Photography Tips to Elevate your Photography

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