The Rule of Thirds for Amateurs

SONY DSCIf you have ever picked up a camera and been around other photographers you have undoubtedly heard of the Rule of Thirds. This rule is a composition aid to assist you in taking better and more informative pictures. Everyone has heard the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Unfortunately, in a badly composed picture those words may not be good ones. Or more simply the picture may not include enough information to warrant a thousand words.



A Snapshot

If you look at the image to the right you will see that is a perfectly acceptable image of a woman wearing a visor and some sporting gear somewhere, but you can’t tell a whole lot more. This picture represents about 95% of the images taken my the average person, they are known as snapshots. They are great for you flipping through you photo album, and if you were there you can tell everyone looking with you what it is a picture of and where it was taken.  But what about 10 years or 20 or even 100 years from now. What will wee know about this picture?

Will anyone who has not talked to you or some family member know what this image is about. Will the information it can give the world be lost forever? Could the photographer in this instance have done anything different to make the image more eternal? By following the rules of thirds, yes he could have. Let me show you how.

The rule of thirds imparts that you divide the image you are about to record for posterity into a grid pattern much like a Tic-Tac-Toe board. This creates 9 distinct areas within the image with 4 lines and 4 intersecting points(see image at the left of the article.). These points (marked by yellow dots) are the important things to pay attention to. When composing your shot you try to put the primary subject of your image centered on those points. So for example in previous image, the photographer would have placed the persons head centered on one of these points thus including in the picture more of the background, and more of a story.

Exact placement of the subject directly on the intersecting point is not always possible or even pleasing for that matter. So the photographer has to in the end utilize good judgement in their placement.  So the rule is not exactly a RULE but a starting point and a good all around idea to follow. My patterns have shown that even if placement exactly on the dots is not working that utilizing the lines to orient the subject is still a solid way to insureSONY DSC good composition.

The Big Difference
As you can see in the image on the right, it is exactly the same shot as the one of the woman above. The difference is that it is composed completely differently. The subjects face has been placed as close to one of the intersecting points, the cameras is zoomed back to include the background of the image, and immediately the picture tells you a a much better story than the snapshot above. You see vendors and concession stands in the background. A guy cleaning up trash, bright colors and lots of people. So you are able to deduce from this that this is now not just a woman in a visor. it is an image of a woman at a sporting event, standing near the concession stands, holding a drink. With a little investigation t=you will find based on her shirt and gear as well as some of the signage around that she is in fact at a NASCAR Racing event, and that she is a Mark Martin Fan. now though you could tel some of this from the first image, you get a much more in depth and entertaining version in the second image.


Close but not exact
You can see if I superimpose the grid over the image how close the photographer was to the point, but not exactly on it. This just shows you that it does not have to be perfect, but using it as a guide will improve you photography 10 fold. You will start giving people informative, well thought out stories, from nothing more than the press of the shutter button.

Utilizing the rule of thirds will start you on a journey of becoming a good photographer. Once this stumbling block is overcome, you can start working on more advanced composition training.  Taking your photographic journey one step at a time will make you that much better at recording history, instead of just taking snapshot of the world.

Good luck, and keep shooting STR8.


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Is an amateur photographer and writer who enjoys sharing information with others. "Technical information sharing is a critical part of helping everyone become a better photographer. If you don't know it, you can't do it!" From Film to Digital, photography has changed a lot, but the idea of learning hasn't.

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