Photography Tips by Pablo Raw “The Rule of Thirds”

The photography tips series is written by Pablo Raw. You can learn more about him here.

On my way back from vacation this year, I watched a movie on the plane and you’ll be surprised to know that I still don’t know what the movie is about.  The thing is, I didn’t buy the $2 earphones, and before you start thinking that I’m just cheap, allow me to explain the reason: I wanted to understand the composition guidelines used in that movie’s photography.

I thought it would be helpful for some of the Popvillagers to know about a very basic composition principle that was very evident in the movie.

How does this rule work? If you trace 2 imaginary horizontal and vertical lines on your photo (when you are composing the shot or cropping it on your computer) so that you divide it in 9 equal parts, you’ll get four line intersections, “strong points” or “points of interest”.  Apparently, those are the points and lines where our sight is directed naturally when observing an image, photo, painting, etc. and painters, photographers and other visual artists take advantage of this situation, and call it “the rule of thirds”.  An exception to this is when someone is showing you a photo, and you know you are in it; then your sight goes straight to see yourself and then you start complaining about your hair!

Continues after the jump.

This is such an important way to balance your photo composition, that some cameras even have a setting that divides the LCD screen according to this rule. So, why not use these points and lines to locate the subject of your photo there instead of having it perfectly centered like our moms asked us to do? In our moms’ defense, I should recognize that there are great examples of centered composition, in which case the professional photographer uses other elements like perspective, contrast, light, blur, etc. to focus the observer’s interest on the subject.

In a portrait you may place the eyes of your subject near the upper horizontal line. Or if you have a standing person as your main subject, you can locate her along or near any of the vertical lines. On a landscape, you could have the horizon located at the lower horizontal line so that the sky is more prominent.

One day on my way home from work, I spotted this beautiful creature near the metro station. It was getting darker, and the hawk was too far away for the lens I had at the moment. That gave me the opportunity to crop the photo in any desired way, and I chose to do #2, based on the Rule of Thirds. Notice how the eye is located near/above the upper horizontal line, and the “empty space” on the photo, is left on the direction the hawk is looking at; that is another composition principle we’ll talk about next time.

There is more to say about the Rule of Thirds but space is limited. I encourage you to take a look at your photos and crop them according to this principle, and compare them to see which one looks more interesting. Also, you may want to watch the movie “Get Low” without sound!!!.

Hasta luego!.

A couple more examples of the use of the Rule of Thirds:

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