Rule of Thirds and when to break it!

Published on 12 May 2020 at 22:55

If you are anything like me, probably you dont like rules!

I mean, its photography, it supposed to be art, a way to express yourself, not to follow rules! Right?!

Well, maybe...!

I know, rules are made to be broken. Sure!

But first make sure that you know them, so you can learn how and when to break them!

Let's see, what this rule of thirds, is all about.

A common misconception is that it was somehow made up by photographers. Well my sources (thanks Wikipedia!), says that it was actually made up by Renaissance painters, in order to help them create their piece of art. Later of course it applied to other forms of visual arts, such as photography.

Do you notice in this picture how after the eye meets the little island it contineus the journey towrads the mountains? Thats what is this all about. Helping the viewer follow that journey rather getting lost!

Why will the rule of thirds make your pictures looks better?!

Let me just answer that!

When your subject is in the middle, and has equal distance from the borders, it draws the attention of the eye directly there. Then its only natural for the eye to start wondering in the frame, looking for where to go next. So then is when you lose the viewer.

The eye gets lost.

There is nothing to follow, or to tell a story, so automatically the brain loses interest.

One more thing is that our brains are able to comprehend visual information, well in thirds!

So keeping two elements of the same color or lighting separated in thirds it is gonna make the picture easily ''viewable'' by someone. 

For example: 2 parts of sky and 1 part of land. Or the opposite.

Thats the simplest way that you can incorporate the rule of thirds in your pictures. And yes most of the times, it makes a difference.

Now do you remeber these grid lines that you find in your camera viewfinder? Yeah these annoying lines!

Well guess what, they are actually really usefull. These lines are going to help you frame your subject in the perfect composition. They separate the screen in 9 equal squares. You can use these lines now to apply the rule of thirds.

I know, certain makers like Nikon, don't have the grid like that, but they offer something more complicated. Well not so much. Dont worry , just check the picture of how you can visualise the grid and be able to compose your photos perfectly.

How to use these lines?!

So your goal is to position your main subject in on of the 4 crosspoints of the lines.

That will give your photo a dynamic look and will give your subject the sense of destinations or movement. This will help you to tell your story.

Try placing your horizon in one of the twon horizontal lines so it can be seperated from the sky and give you that, 1 part/ 2 parts, segregation we talked before. This will also help you to take your picture straight, since your horizon is going to be paralel with a straight line as a guide.

Ok let's see how and when do we brake this rule!

There are occasions that the story can be told in a different way. After all its all about using your creative mind together with the tools that are out there.

For example, if you are taking a portrait, with shallow depth of field, it doesn't really matter if it is going to be on the 1/3 of the picture. Portraits tend to be powerful pictures and the convey the message directly, plus the bokeh is going to help drastically to that.

When symmetry is used, there is also no need to strees about that rule. You are already using a really good technique to depict your subject in a unique way, through symmetry!

Or when using leading lines, to lead the eye of the viwer to your subject. It is already powerfull enough and will get the message delivered, trust me!

Of course you can combine, mix and match different techniques together! Let your creativity go wild!


To sum up, the rule of the thirds is one of the most basic and common rules in visual arts. It helps you to stay within the lines lets say, and avoid mistakes. It gets you familiar with the whole concept of storytelling through an image and what is appealing to the human eye. All you have to do is to use that grid and aim to place your subjects in any of the crossections of the lines.

There are some examples of images that the rule of thirds was incorporated in.

2/3 of water 1/3 of sky and the main subject on the upper right corss point!

2/3 of land and 1/3 of water and sky, with the main subject on the upper right cross point.

2/3 of land and 1/3 of sky with Acropolis bbeing on the nottom left cross point!

1/3 of land, 1/3 of water, 1/3 of sky with the main subject being on the bottom left cross point!

Happy shooting!

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