Have you ever heard of the rule of thirds? Maybe you haven’t but you have definitely seen it because it is everywhere! It is used in photography, in films, in art, but the important questions are: What is the rule of thirds? Why is the rule of thirds so important? Well, in a nutshell, it’s one of the fundamental principles of design, but what does it mean exactly? Here you’ll find out everything you need to know about the rule of thirds.
If you want to achieve an eye-pleasing photograph, you’ll need to use the rule of thirds. We know what they say, photography is subjective but there are a few things that can make your photo look out of this world! One of them is the rule of thirds. Composition, whether in photography, film or art in general, is everything. It’s the way elements are arranged in an image.
The rule of thirds is a composition type that divides the frame into thirds horizontally and vertically, this way the image is divided into nine equal parts. Once it’s divided, you’ll place your object along the grid lines or at the meeting point of two grid lines. These intersections are called ‘power points’. By placing your object on these grid lines or on the power points, you’ll have a more professional and aesthetic composition.
So, let’s imagine that you are taking a picture of a boat, what you want to do is place the boat on one of the power points we’ve mentioned before. That way your image is going to look more interesting and appealing to the eye. As you can see in the image below, the boat is on the bottom left power point, giving the image a balanced look.
Also, if you are photographing a landscape you should definitely align one of the horizontal grid lines highlighting the sky or the land, depending on what interests you most.
If you have an object like a tree, for example, try placing it along one entire grid line. Or if you have a person or an animal that is looking to the left, for example, it’s recommended to place it on the right side of the image. This way the image will find a balance and seem more professional.
Okay, so far the rule of thirds seems easy to understand and it helps you to achieve great photos with amazing composition. It’s called a ‘rule’ but actually, it’s just a guideline that will help you improve your composition. But why is it so important?
Well, for starters, this rule is more than 200 years old. It was first mentioned in 1797 in relation to painting. So, you can imagine, it’s been used for many years. Why does it work? Simple, because our brains work in a particular way. Our eyes have a tendency to, instinctively, go to these power points when looking at an image making the composition look super interesting for our brains. We find the bottom right section of composition the most compelling whereas the upper left section goes a little more unnoticed.
With the rule of thirds, your image will find balance and dynamism, you’ll make the composition more engaging. Placing your object in the center of a picture can be a bit dull, but if you learn to incorporate this rule when taking pictures or when filming, you’ll astonish your audience. Of course, as we’ve mentioned, it’s not mandatory and sometimes you can break this rule. On some occasions, your subject will look better at the center of the image, for example. But if you are a beginner and you want your pictures to look like magic, by applying the rule of thirds, you’ll start noticing a difference.
As we’ve seen, the rule of thirds has been around for a long time. From Da Vinci to Van Gogh to Dali, all great artists know that a good composition means a great piece of art. In painting, the golden ratio is widely used for many many years but so is the rule of thirds. Here, we will show you a few examples:
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632) by Rembrandt is a clear example of the rule of thirds being used in painting. We can see that the right vertical grid line aligns perfectly with one of the main subjects, the Dr. Tulp, and the top right power point is right on his face. The bottom left power point is aligned with the face of the corpse. And the top left power point is focused on one of the spectators who is observing the lesson. The painting is totally aligned with the power points making it interesting to look at.
This second painting, The Great Century (1954) by Rene Magritte is another example of the use of rule of thirds in art. We can see here that the man on the left is aligned with the left vertical grid line of the composition, making it our principal subject. The next focus point is on the house aligned with the right vertical grid line, making use of the rule of thirds.
We’ve seen some examples of this rule in paintings, but what about films? All great filmmakers know that cinematography is fundamental when making a movie, so it’s not rare to come across the use of the rule of thirds very often. Here we will show you some examples:
Who hasn’t watched Titanic (1997)? This movie, by James Cameron, is extremely famous. All of us know that famous scene! Well, the news is that even that scene follows the rule of thirds. As we can see in the picture, the top left power point is focused on Leo DiCaprio’s face while the left vertical gridline is aligned with their bodies. Also, we can see that Kate Winslet’s open arms are aligned with the bottom horizontal grid line. Yes! The rule of thirds is everywhere.
And who doesn’t love a good Scorsese film? Do you think that the rule of thirds is also here? The answer is yes! Goodfellas (1990) also applies the rule of thirds. In this image, we can see that the two right power points are totally aligned with Robert De Niro’s face and so is the right vertical grid line. This way we focus on his character finding the image aesthetically pleasing.
If you want to start applying this rule and you don’t want to mentally divide the image every time you take a photo or film, we have a few tips to help you out.
If you have a smartphone you can activate a grid line for your camera that will help you with your photos or videos.
For iPhone users you’ll have to go to Settings > Camera > Grid and then swipe to turn it on.
If you have an Android go to the Camera App > Settings > Grid lines.
Also, when editing a photo, you’ll see that sometimes grid lines will appear when cropping it, so you can adjust the power points and the grid lines as you wish. Also, when editing videos, the grid lines will appear.
On DSLR cameras, it depends on which camera you have, but usually, by going to the Menu and searching around, you’ll find the grid display option to activate.
The rule of thirds will be your friend when taking amazing pictures or videos, it’s easy and it will improve your photography and filming skills. Just try it out and see it for yourself!
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