How to Use the Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds

What is the Rule of Thirds?

If you have ever read anything about composing a picture you have probably heard of the rule of thirds. But what is it? The Rule of Thirds is a basic, yet essential and powerful guideline that helps photographers compose an image.  The rule of thirds helps the photographer decide where to place their subject(s) or key elements to create a well balanced and interesting photo.

The basic principle behind the Rule of Thirds:

Imagine that your photo is divided into nine squares – three across, and three down, as you can see in the image below. The red dots (the intersections of the lines) on the grid below, are considered visual hot-spots. These are the strongest focal points of your photo.  Studies have shown that these hot-spots are where a viewer’s eyes will naturally want to focus, therefore making a well-balanced photo.

rule of third grid

Instead of just taking the shot and getting an ok snapshot take a minute to think about what you want to capture.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the most important elements of my photo?
  • Where should I place them within my photo?

**If you want to know more about moving your pictures from snapshots to great shots check out the post Snapshot to Great Shot**

According to the Rule of Thirds, you should try to place your subject around these intersections/visual hot spots to draw the viewer into your image in a natural way and make it a much more visually dynamic and engaging photo.

Tip- Realize that your subject doesn’t have to be exactly on the hot-spot, just near to it. You may have to move around when shooting to make this happen and get best composition. When I am taking pictures of my kids or portraits i try to get my subjects eye on one of those visual hot spots. If I I cant do it in camera I will crop in post processing.

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.

rule of thirds-directional

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.


That’s it! Of course, you will want to expand your knowledge and learn everything you can to help you take great photos. Check out Finding the Light to learn how light affects your pictures. Enjoy your camera and get out there and practice!

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