Girl happily enjoying a popsicle demonstrating rule of thirds photo composition

What is the Rule of Thirds?

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.

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

Here's how the basic principle behind the rule of thirds works:

Rule of Thirds Grid

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

Rule of Thirds Intersections are Visual Hot Spots

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.

Rule of Thirds Photography Examples

Visualizing the Rule of Thirds in Your Camera Viewfinder

In this photo, the subjects are placed directly on two intersecting hot-spots over the right third of the frame.

Photo of branches demonstrating the rule of thirds photography principal

In this photo, since the branches are various heights, the rule of thirds really came in handy. The top branch falls in the upper right intersection.  Your eye starts there and flows to the hotspots intersecting the lower branch.

photo of mother and child demonstrating the rule of thirds photography principal

In this shot the connection and emotion are happening along the top third of of the image and near the intersecting points.

Cropping Using the Rule of Thirds

Cropping a portrait of a woman to achieve rule of thirds placement

You can also experiment with cropping in your post-processing to find the most dynamic composition.

In the top photo, the subject is in the very center (which is generally frowned upon when using the rule of thirds).

As you can see, the bottom photo was cropped to make the subject slightly off-center, at the intersecting points of our nine squares diagram making it a much more dynamic image.


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 this rule more effectively, so having a firm grasp on this concept will help you experiment more in the long run!

Do you have any questions or comments about the Rule of Thirds? Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you! And please share this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!