If you take an introduction to photography class, more than likely, the very first thing you will learn is the “Rule of Thirds.” Even if you haven’t taken a photography class, you have probably still heard this term.

The rule has been used by artists for centuries. Once photography came along, it then became a basic principle of the medium.

Here is how it works:

 

The idea is that your composition is divided into nine squares – three across, and three down. In most DSLR cameras, you can activate a grid within your viewfinder to help you visualize the squares in your composition.

 

Now, the intersections of the squares are considered visual hot-spots. These are the points of your photo where the eye will naturally focus, so placing your subject, or areas of the photo that you wish to highlight, around these intersections will create tension in your photo, making it more visually dynamic.

 

In this photo, the subject is placed directly on an intersection, while the nearest corner of the barn is also on an intersection. This creates a movement in the eye that shifts from the subject, up to the barn, and then up to the sky.

 

In this photo, since the flowers were various heights, the rule of thirds really came in handy. The first flower you notice is probably the tallest one, but lining up the shot so that the shorter flower was almost directly on an intersection leads the eye down the frame, and then over to the left of the frame to the medium-sized flower.

 

You can also experiment with cropping in your post-processing to find the most dynamic composition. In the photo on top, the subject is center (which is generally frowned upon when using the rule of thirds) whereas the bottom photo was cropped in Photoshop to make the subject slightly off-center, at the intersecting points of our nine squares diagram.

The rule of thirds is a great guideline for composition, but just like any other rule or guideline, breaking it can make for very interesting results in some cases. However, learning the rule of thirds, and letting it become second nature, will help you break the rule more effectively, so having a firm grasp on this concept will help you experiment more in the long run!