Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Photography - Composition (Rule of Third)

The rule of thirds

While there are times when you need to place your subject in the centre of the frame, you can create more interesting, balanced and powerful compositions by placing the subject off-centre in your photograph; this immediately causes the viewer's eye to move around the image. Centrally placed subjects tend to focus attention in the middle of the image and leave it there, making pictures feel flat as a result; if you're trying to create an abstract or graphic representation of reality, this might be exactly the effect you're looking for, but you can strengthen your compositions with a subtle shift of the focal point.

Placing the sunlit peak at one of the ‘points of power’ gives this photograph clarity – we know what we’re supposed to be looking at, because all the elements lead us there.

Although this image is fairly central, its been lifted by the figure looming into view from one side of the frame; the interesting shapes and lines on the costume pull the viewers eye up the frame.

Know the rules

One of the most frequently used ways of directing the viewer's eye to the centre of interest in a picture is by following the rule of thirds. You've probably heard Digital Camera Magazine, and other photographers, talk about this compositional tool, which was developed by painters centuries ago. The idea is to imagine that your frame is split into nine equal sections by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. Then, by placing your subject, or a key part of your scene, at or near a point where the lines cross a point of power you'll lead your viewer's eye through the image, and create a more balanced composition; you'll be surprised at how dominant smaller subjects can become in a much larger scene. There's a similar rule, the golden mean, in which the proportions are slightly different, although the idea's the same.

Break the rules

Not every image in a shoot should conform to the rule of thirds, otherwise you'll end up creating a series of similarly paced pictures. Sometimes, all it takes is a slight nudge of the main subject off-centre to create a more balanced picture, or you could try moving the subject right to the edge of the frame. There will be times when you have no option but to place your subject bang in the centre of the photo, and as long as that's where you want to hold your viewers attention, that's fine. Imagine you're on safari, and a lion starts running towards you; this is probably the time to place the subject dead centre; if you managed to hold your camera steady! In practice, you'd probably need the animal to be dead centre because you'd need your most sensitive autofocus points to track it, but its also perfect placement if the lion's gaze is fixed on you.

Although this scene is dominated by the foreground rocks, placing the only man-made element in the scene close to a point of power, and waiting for the right light, has delivered a great shot

Close ups

The same rules can be applied to any subject; they're not limited to landscapes and other wide-angle work. Employ the rule of thirds to faces, flowers or other macro images, by moving a key feature to a point of power.

While this image of a flower doesn’t conform to the rule of thirds precisely, it’s still a well-balanced image, with an off-centre subject. The red markings draw the eye to the focal point.

By placing the tube sign off-centre, and using the diagonal lines of the escalators to lead the eye towards and through the focal point, the photographer has emphasised the far end of the tunnel.

Use Lines

Learn to see patterns, lighting and lines that'll help to take your viewers to the point of power where you've placed your key feature. Diagonal lines can help here, particularly when short ones on one side of the subject are combined with long ones on the other side. Lines that lead the eye to a central subject can help to prevent the image from feeling static as well. Get up early, or stay out late, to see how natural light picks out different elements in a landscape; a hillside bathed in warm light placed off-centre against a cool shadowy background will demand the viewer's attention.


The rule of thirds can be applied to any format – square, rectangular or panoramic. As long as you can divide up the image by two horizontal lines and two vertical ones, you’ll have points of power.On the picture below, the light’s the subject. By placing it off-centre, we’re free to roam around the image – but we always return to the same spot. The top-right point feels the most powerful, and it’s where we naturally look first. There’s enough foreground interest to ensure that the image feels full, but not enough distracting elements to take our attention away from the main subject – the brightest part of the scene.

1 comment:

lestat_m said...

thanks for the tip...
atleast now i have some basic theory how to have a better shot..
keep it up.. regards.

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