Stephanie Bryan Photography - A guide to the rule of thirds

When it comes to photography, how your compose your image is just as important as your image itself. A good composition draws the viewer in and helps to tell your complete story without any words needed. A good "rule" to follow when envisioning you image is the "rule of thirds". Today, I thought I would touch on composition using this rule and how it can really make your images pop. (But remember - all rules are meant to be broken, so we'll cover that too)!


What is the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds is a method of composing your image into a third of your frame. Ever notice when you go crop your image (or maybe even when you look through your camera's viewfinder) that a nine-square grid helps guide you? (Check out the image below...). This "grid" divides your image into thirds and is super helpful in both composing your image (before you shoot) and cropping your image (in post-processing).


How to use the rule of thirds?

When composing your image (or setting up your subject in the frame), you will want place them along one of the intersecting lines. My viewfinder doesn't have the grids, so I always just eyeball it when setting up my shot. And just in case you were wondering - NO! My kids (and probably my clients too) could care less about pretty light or composition. I am the one moving, angling and running around to compose my shot. I do rely on my grids for cropping in post-processing and typically always follow the rule of thirds (unless I don't - which I will explain in a sec!). 

By placing your focal point or subject where one of those lines intersects, you are creating more "blank space" in your image and are drawing your reader in to what you are capturing and helping to tell your story. Remember that there are several different options when it comes to composing your image using the rule of thirds! Don't feel restricted to the far right or far left only. You can also compose your image using the horizontal grid lines along the top and bottom of the grid as pictured in the two images below.

Have multiple subjects or want to fill your frame? No problem! Use the guides to place them along both sides of your grid. Notice in the image below how my daughters eye is just about at the top left intersecting line and my son follows the guide line along the right of the frame. 

**Note - I can't remember exactly, but I'm pretty sure I cropped my image to follow the rule. Photographing kids is like wrangling cats in a shower, so I'm pretty doubtful that I it was this "spot on" straight out of the camera!**

These images show various ways to compose your images using the rule of thirds. My go to is probably either the far left or far right. I LOVE blank space (and you can read all about how I use it here), so placing my focal point to the left or right gives me good room around my subject and helps them pop from the frame. 

When to break the rule of thirds?

Ok! So now that you know all about the rule of thirds, let's talk about when it break it!!

My answer to that is - WHENEVER YOU WANT TO! Yep! I'm a BIG fan of knowing the rules, but I'm also a big fan of breaking them. Photography may be an art, but it's also a passion and being creative is part of the process. If you want to place your subject smack dab in the middle - go for it! If you want your focal point to be all over the place and keep your viewer guessing, by all means, DO IT! Don't feel stuck to the rule of thirds when it comes to composing your image. It's a good rule to know and can definitely help tell a more complete story, but give yourself the freedom to do whatever your heart desires! 

While I use the rule of thirds a lot, I also break it a lot as well! I LOVE framing, so if I see an opportunity for framing and can place my subjects in the middle of something, I definitely do! I'm also a big fan of negative space (read more about that here), so I often find myself placing my focal point at the bottom or top middle of my frame.

So there you have it! The rule of thirds! It's great for composing your images and if you're new to photography and are trying to up your A-game, then definitely keep it in the back of your mind as you're setting up a shot! Learn the rule - and then learn when you love to break it! 


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