Creatively Composed 4. Compositional balance and the rule of thirds

Photo of author

Words/photographs: Tony Eveling

This post describes the last two techniques or rules that all photographers use to create compelling images.
It doesn’t matter if you shoot portraits or landscapes, the techniques for composition are the same.

We now know that separating elements in a frame, giving them their own space creates a pleasing visual effect.

And we also know that placing objects that ‘want’ to leave the frame for compositional purposes is also critical to the aesthetic quality of an image.

Creatively Composed 4. Compositional balance and the rule of thirds
View of a sunset from the Devon coastline.

That’s what we already know. Now we go onto balancing a composition so that the eye is drawn to the areas of a photo that the photographer intended.

And finally we will tie all this up into one big knot, otherwise known as the rule of thirds…

…so here we go…

This article is just one of a whole series of articles on creative composition.
You can click here
to go to an index page of all these posts in the order that they were written.

4. Rule of Thirds

Divide the frame into a Tic-Tac-Toe grid and use the lines (2 on the example here) and intersections (1 on the example) to place your most important elements.

You can use this technique as a starting point for composing an image.

You need space around objects to help to put them in context with the wider environment.

The 'rule of thirds' grid placed over a photo of the Dorset countryside
The ‘rule of thirds’ grid placed over a photo of the Dorset countryside

Use the rule of thirds initially, then ‘customise’ your composition as you see fit.

Okay, so there is my explanation of the ‘rule of thirds’. However, there is more to it than that.

I have just described four compositional techniques with the rule of thirds being the fourth.

I have left the ‘rule of thirds’ last for a reason, and that is because the rule of thirds sometimes just happens.

If you look at an image and then ‘reverse engineer’ it in terms of its composition, many photos will appear to follow the rule of thirds.

But if you employ any of my previous three techniques, you will notice that as a result, objects often naturally settle close to the lines and intersections marked on my example on this section

So my conclusion is that the ‘rule of thirds’ is sometimes a consequence of using other compositional techniques.

And for an intuitive or experienced photographer all of these techniques may be subconscious.

So, for an inexperienced photographer, you may notice the ‘rule of thirds’ employed in many peoples photographs, but in reality it may be that the positioning of objects in the frame was as a result of other compositional choices.

Don’t be so sure that the photographer specifically employed the rule.

If you are new to photography, then you can use the ‘rule of thirds’ as a starting point for your composition.

People though, are going to insist on using the rule in absolute terms no matter what I write so in that case my advice is to see the scene that inspires you and work out in your minds eye what your composition should be, that is the main subject etc.

Then choose your focal length to include and exclude all the elements that interest you.

Position the subject and other environmental elements according to the Tic-Tac-Toe grid. Then you can fine-tune your composition from that initial starting point, to try and create as close as possible what you first saw when you were inspired to take the photograph

Hopefully you will wean yourself off of the rule of thirds and start using the more intuitive techniques that I have previously described.

Thanks for reading part 4, I hope you enjoyed it. This is the fourth part of a whole series of articles that I am and will be publishing over the next few days and weeks.

These posts have been adapted from my free ebook.
If you want to read the whole series of articles in one convenient ebook, you can, just follow this link.

So that you don’t have to trawl through my blog posts to find the next one in the series, please visit this link which has all the individual article links to each post in this series. You could also bookmark the page as a reference too, as it will contain more links as I continue to write articles.

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