Breaking the rules: The Rule of Thirds

Andrew Beck All Authors, Andrew 6 Comments

In my current series of blog posts I am looking at breaking the rules of photography. This is something that can be done but one needs to know when and how to bend or break the rules. My first post focussed on how to break the rule of keeping your horizon straight and today I look at the rule of thirds. I am sure that you are all familiar with the rule of thirds and have often composed or cropped images with this guideline in mind. If you haven’t yet heard about the rule of thirds or are not quite sure what it means, this is how Wikipedia explains it:

The rule of thirds is a “rule of thumb” or guideline which applies to the process of composing visual images such as paintings, photographs and designs. The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject would.

This is without a doubt a fundamental component of photography and visual art in general but, there are circumstances where breaking this rule does work. Lets use the image below as an example.

Rule of thirds

The story that I wanted to portray here is quite simple, a vehicle sitting in the middle of an open plain in the Masai Mara, beneath a beautiful sky, watching a lion perched on top of an old termite mound. The most striking and powerful element here is the sky and I composed the image in a manner which accentuates and elevates the importance of the sky in the image.

Lets have a look at how it works with the Rule of Thirds overlaid onto the image.

Rule of thirds II

Theoretically one of, or both of my subjects should be placed along one of the gridlines or on the “power points” where the lines intersect. According to the rule I have failed dismally as my horizon is below the bottom horizontal line and neither of my subjects fall on the power points.

Given that the sky is the focus of this story I don’t think the image would have the same appeal to me had I composed according to the rule of thirds.

What do you think?

Andrew Beck

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Comments 6

  1. Morkel Erasmus

    Nice one Bexter. I wouldn’t have found this image very appealing if the cruiser and lion were on the “power points” as there would have been negative space on either side which would have created tension – for me maximum space between them is crucial here, as is the sky.

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  2. Gemma

    I think this works beautifully. One of the things that I always associate with safaris are those times where you get the feeling of being really small, under a big sky. This is so evocative of that feeling and it is because you broke the rules.

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