The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds – Tip #5

When composing images, it is easy to look through the viewfinder and place the circle or rectangular box on the subject, press the shutter button and capture the image. Some subjects, such as full-frame close-ups and portraits, lend themselves well to “bulls-eye” subject placement – where the subject is placed in the center of the photo.

However, when you are not shooting full-frame subjects, use the Rule of Thirds, also known as the Golden Grid. The ancient Greek painters knew this rule and used it extensively in their paintings.

To use the rule, first visualize a grid in your viewfinder – where the viewfinder is broken down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Place the subject on one of the intersecting points – where a horizontal and a vertical line meet. Alternately, place a horizontal subject on one of the horizontal lines; place vertical subjects on one of the vertical lines. Using this technique by itself will give your photos tremendous impact.

So now you are ready to take the picture. With the subject placed on an intersecting point, you press the shutter button. While reviewing your image on your back screen, you notice the subject is blurry. What happened?

Because digital cameras set the exposure information and focusing point from what is inside the circle or rectangular box in your viewfinder, your camera focused on what was in the distance and not on your subject off to the side. If the subject ended up blurry and the background in focus, then you didn’t have enough depth-of-field to hold everything in focus.

So with a large distance between my subject and the background, how do I use the rule and get sharp subjects? All digital cameras contain a little-known feature called Focus Lock.

To use it, place your viewfinder’s circle or rectangular box on your subject and press the shutter button half-way down. This locks the exposure and focus on your subject. Now with the shutter button still pressed half-way down, recompose by moving your camera, so your subject is on the intersecting point and finish pressing the shutter button. Your subject will be in focus with the background slightly blurry.

Let’s talk a little more about subject placement. When applicable, you want your subject either looking or moving into the scene. Let’s say you are going to photograph your child looking pensively to the right. You would place the child toward the left side of the viewfinder so the child looks into the scene. Using this technique creates a more visually-balanced image than if the child was positioned on the right side of the viewfinder and looking out of the scene.

Of course, with every rule, there are exceptions; the Rule of Thirds is no different. We already talked about when your subject is filling the frame, you can’t apply the rule, but here is one other one. Suppose you are trying to capture a silhouetted image of your child looking at a beautiful sunset. It wouldn’t make sense to position your child in either the lower right or left intersecting point and have the lower one-third of the image black. Instead, drop your tripod down low, tilt your camera slightly up and position your child either toward the lower left or lower right corner of the viewfinder. Now you eliminated the detail-less black space in the lower 1/3rd of your photo.

Using the Rule of Thirds add tremendous visual appeal and impact to your images. Once you start using it, you will like the results. Enjoy!

Professional Photographer

Professional Photographer

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