Rule of Thirds: start taking superb photographies

Rule of Thirds: Composition Photography

The rule of thirds is an essential photography technique. It can be applied to any subject to improve the composition and balance your images.

This technique is a basic rule for artists, not only for photographers. This Rule of Thirds is perhaps the most well-known ‘rule’ of photographic composition.

It's an important concept to learn as it can be used in all types of photography to produce images which are more engaging and better balanced. If you take an introduction to photography class, more than likely, one of the very first things you will learn is the “Rule of Thirds”. Even if you haven’t taken a photography class, you have still probably heard this term.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The rule of thirds involves mentally dividing up your image using 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines, as shown below. You then position the important elements in your scene along those lines, or at the points where they meet.

Rule of thirds

Rule of thirds

As you’re taking an image you would have done this in your mind through your viewfinder or in the LCD display that you use to frame your shot.

With this grid in mind the ‘rule of thirds’ now identifies four important parts of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image.

Not only this – but it also gives you four ‘lines’ that are also useful positions for elements in your photo.

When taking your photo, you will want to ask yourself:

  • What are the most important elements of my photo?

  • Where should I should I place them within my photo?

Realize that your subject doesn't have to be exactly on the hot-spot, just near to it. You may have to movearound when shooting to make this happen and get best composition.

The Rule of Thirds states that a photograph has the greatest impact and ability to capture a viewer’s attention when your image subject and important foreground and background elements are placed in the composition near the junction of these lines. Horizons are best placed along one of the two horizontal lines, rather than in the center of a photo. Vertically oriented subjects, like people standing, are best placed along one of the vertical lines, with the person’s back closest to the edge of the photo, leaving room ahead of them in the direction they’re facing.

Rule of Thirds in Landscape Photography

New landscape photographers often mistakenly place the horizon right in the middle of the photo.  This tends to give the feeling of the image being split in two - which is not generally pleasing to the eye.

Knowing the rule of thirds is very helpful here, as placing the horizon on one of the horizontal lines will naturally balance the image and allow you to highlight the area of the photo that you want.

For example, you should place the horizon on the bottom line if you’re trying to highlight a beautiful sky or sunset. Alternatively, if want the focus to be on the land, you would place the horizon on the top line.

Rule of Thirds and Directional Movement

When you’re photographing a moving subject pay particular attention to the direction they are traveling.  You will want to place them near the hot spot or line on the opposite side from where they are going.

For example, if your subject is a jogger who is running from right to left, make sure place them on the right vertical line or hotspot.  This will give the appearance your subject moving forward and also show where they are headed.

Rule of Thirds and Where Your Subject is Looking

If your subject is looking in a particular direction, make sure to place them on the opposite side from were they are looking. This will leave empty space ahead of them and prevent the appearance that they are looking off into nothingness.

For example, if your subject is looking to the left, place them on the right vertical line.  This will provide more natural balance and allow the viewer to understand what they are looking at.

If you find that there are no determining factors on which side is better for placement, choose the right.  Because we read from left to right, our eyes will naturally focus more strongly on the right side.


The Rule of Thirds is not an infallible law, but it is a good point of reference to keep in mind, just as artists have done for hundreds of years. Excellent photos can certainly be taken with your subject or horizon centered in the middle of the frame, but generally you’ll find that the Rule of Thirds really does improve the composition and balance of a photograph.

However, learn to use the rule of thirds effectively before you try to break it - that way you can be sure you're doing so in order to get a better composition, rather than just for the sake of it.

A few examples of when breaking the rule of thirds can make for a better photograph include:

  1. Highlighting the symmetry of a subject or location by centering the photo.

  2. Making a subject appear larger and more intimidating by placing them in the center of the photo.

  3. If you want to draw the eyes inward - perhaps a photo of a narrow pathway that you want your viewer to focus on.

  4. The subject is nicely framed and centering makes for a stronger photo.


You can easily apply the rule of thirds to existing photos by cropping them. This allows you to reposition the important subjects in your image, moving them into more pleasing positions.

If you don’t get your perfect positioning in camera (and who does), you can use Lightroom and Photoshop, they includw a rule of thirds overlay to help guide you.