One of the most useful “rules” in photography is the Rule of Thirds
The best way to describe it is to imagine a noughts and crosses grid over the scene when you look through the view finder on your camera.
Put your subject (or a point of interest) on one of the lines – or better still, where the lines intersect.
Its as simple as that really, but is quite a powerful concept when you start to use it.
Lets look at a few shots and show you where the rule has been used.
This first shot is of Liege train station – the roof is impressive, huge girders making really nice patterns as you walk around the place. I decided to include just the clock to break the pattern – to add in something different to the ordered roof. Note that the clock is about 1/3 of the way in from the right… would this have worked as well had I put the clock in the middle? Probably not, things usually look better when you’ve got them off to one side like this.
This next picture is a small village in Lancashire, here we have the main farm building on the right side of the image and also the brook takes the viewer down the left hand side of the shot. So there are 2 examples in this image.
This shot of Wakefield has a similar composition to the village – the kerb and yellow lines lead us down the left 1/3 line to the lamp post and the people walking, the Art House takes up the other 2/3 of the shot.
Here we have Broadgate in Leeds – the edge of the building which we see most of sits on the left third line.
So there are a few architecture scenes – we’ve got lines and features on the third lines in each shot.
The rule applies equally to other areas = lets take a look at some portraits….
Here we have a photograph of writer Will Self – he’s standing on stage, looking out into the audience whilst doing a reading in Morley. Here I’ve placed him on the right third of the image, leaving him looking into 2/3 of the image – its often a good idea to leave more space on the side of the image where a person (or animal) is looking. If anything, you could maybe chop off a bit of the right of this shot to make Will appear even further to the right of the shot – but that’s just down to taste really.
In this shot of Anthony Caton, I placed his head on the intersection of the top and right third line. I also shot it at a quirky angle, something I rarely do, but seemed to work on this shoot. The lighting’s interesting too – 3 lights, one had a red gel on to give a bit of atmosphere.
A pretty normal kind of portrait of Dave Higham, the lighting lifts him from the dull background – but placing him on the left 1/3 of the shot adds a little more “interest”… hard to explain why, but I don’t think him being central would work so well.
Here we’ve got Chris Mills looking to the right, so I put him on the left 1/3 yo give him space to look into. It also gives us a large area of that wonderful sky to look at.
Landscape is probably the best place to use the rule of thirds – if we take a look at this shot of Malham, there are 3 elements that use the rule.
First the horizon is on the top 1/3 line – it’s often more creative to put your horizons on either the top or bottom third, so you get either 1/3 or 2/3 sky. If the sky looks amazing, go for 2/3.
Second, there’s a long crack in the rock that runs up the left third.
Third, the tree – this is placed on the top third, but also on the left third.
So there you go – one of the fundamental rules of compositions and a few illustrations.
Of course, these “rules” are really just “guidelines”, so you can use or ignore them as you fancy really. For example, if you’re shooting a “reflection” in a river or canal, it’s often nice to have the horizon in the middle, rather than on a third line.