For those who want to learn some of the fundamentals about taking a better photograph, there are some basic rules that are easy to remember and follow. In this blog I’m going to revisit the most widely acknowledged and used rule about composition. It’s known as the ‘rules of thirds’.
Often, the instinct of an amateur snapper is to position the main subject of the photograph in the very centre of the image. This is further encouraged by the fact that most camera viewfinders and screens have a focus dot in the very centre which tempts the picture taker to position the subject in the frame using this dot.
The fact is that if we had one eye, right in the centre of our face, this practice would be fine. But we don’t, we have two. Therefore subjects that are positioned right in the middle are harder for our eyes to view and for our brains to absorb the image. With this in mind, following the ‘rule of thirds’ is a great first step in understanding how you should view and capture a scene or photograph.
The rule of thirds says that you should cut your view into thirds and then position the key subject or subjects along these two imaginary horizontal and vertical lines that run through your image. In fact many viewfinders have guides showing you where these lines start (including many smartphone cameras) and finish. The best places are where these lines intersect (there are 4 points of intersection) as these are the 4 points where our eyes can best see what we want them to.
Lets look at some examples that follow the rule of thirds. In each example I have overlaid a grid that cuts up the image into thirds on both the horizontal and vertical (click any image to enlarge and get the best view):
1) Portrait example
You’ll note that this lady’s face runs through the left hand line (so one third in from the left of the frame). Also, her key eye is positioned at the point where the top horizontal third line and the left hand vertical line meet. In addition, here left hand is just cutting through the bottom of the two horizontal lines (so one third up the image).
2) Close up portrait
For a close up portrait, you can actually put the face in the middle of the frame and then use the rule to pick out the main features. In this example both of the lady’s eyes are at the intersection points for the top line (one third down the image) and both the vertical lines (one eyes is one third in form the left, and the other, one third from the right). Her chin then sits on the bottom line framing her perfectly. This can be a harder discipline as our instinct can be to not chop off the top of here head but this would push her eyes too low in the frame. It is a better practice to crop the top of the head than have the eyes in the wrong place.
1) Landscape example
The rule applies in the same way to landscape photography. In this easy example, the London Eye is the key focus of the scene and has been position one third on from the left of the frame. The tallest building (on the very right of frame) stops at the top horizontal line. The Eye itself extends well above this top line, this is not a mistake, its deliberate as it adds to the feeling of its imposing height.
4) Close Up landscape
Simply note how the horizon of this photo (the waterline in this case) follows the top line running one third down the entire width of the image.
If you have photo editing software then keeping to this rule exactly is easier as you stay wider when taking the photo then crop the photo to improve the composition.
This rule is pretty much the first rule that should be followed when trying to compose a better photograph. There are other composition rules that can be used and that we’ll explore in future blogs. Until then, happy snapping Journographers!
Mark the Moment