What is the Rule of Thirds?

One of the most well known “rules” in photographic composition is the Rule of Thirds. Learning about the rule and how to apply it will help you create balanced and visually pleasing compositions.  
The most important part of an image — the area that a photographer wants to emphasize most — is called the main subject. Great photographers know how to subtly guide a viewer’s eyes to their main subjects, making their images feel totally natural. The Rule of Thirds will help you determine where to position your main subject to create better compositions.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

Imagine breaking your frame into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, so that you have a grid made up of nine boxes and four points of intersection. Today, many digital cameras have an option to display this grid on the LCD viewer. The Rule of Thirds states that the main subject should be arranged at the intersections or along the gridlines for the best effect.

Why Does the Rule of Thirds Work?

Studies show that when viewing images, people’s eyes will naturally gravitate to one of the intersection points rather than the center of the image. The rule of thirds is a way to work with this tendency instead of against it, creating a more natural experience for viewers.

Using the Rule of Thirds

Applying the Rule of Thirds to your own photography is fairly straightforward. When working with landscapes, frame the image so that the horizon line is positioned along one of the horizontal lines of the grid. For portraits, try centering the subject’s face along one of the two vertical lines, so that the subject is not directly in the center of the frame.
While the Rule of Thirds may come naturally to some photographers, many find it counterintuitive. Often, our gut instinct when composing a shot is to position the photo’s main subject directly in the center of the frame. As you compose the shot, it may be useful to ask yourself these questions: 

  • What is the main subject in this shot?
  • Where in the frame am I intentionally placing the main subject? 

It’s never too late to adjust your old photos using the Rule of Thirds. Most photo editing applications will allow you to crop and reframe images so that they fit within the rule, and many will have an option to display the gridlines.
It’s important to remember that the Rule of Thirds is not a law, but rather a “rule of thumb” that tends to produce compelling images. Breaking the rule can often produce interesting results as well, so have fun with it and keep experimenting!

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