The Rule Of Thirds – Photography Basics

Photography Basics - Understanding Shutter SpeedThe Rule of Thirds

“How to line things up better.”

“Framing a shot and knowing what to look for.”


These are answers to a questionnaire I send before each workshop I teach. I ask what each student wants to learn during our time class. Proper composition comes up about a quarter of the time.

I always include a mention of the Rule Of Thirds in my classes because it is so basic and easy and helpful. Before I go further, it is by no means the only rule for composition and, as I mentioned in the start of this 43 day marathon, all rules are made to be broken. Yet, it’s a great tool to help an untrained eye start improving composition.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The Rule Of Thirds is quite simple, actually. Divide your frame into three equal parts top to bottom and side to side. Place eyes, horizons, divisions in the image, or anything interesting on one of those newly drawn lines. Here’s what it looks like.

Rule of Thirds

In this case, I considered the line between the dark lower clouds and the lighter, closer clouds a division. The thunderheads are a point of interest as well and I was able to fit them both into ‘crosshairs’ where the lines meet, which tends to be a pleasing spot.

Check to see if your camera has a mode where the lines can be drawn on the scene when viewed through the viewfinder. This will help you get used to the look. Many phones will do this as well as mirrorless cameras.

An Example

Take a scene as seen through your viewfinder, in this case a hurried shot of the sun setting behind an acacia tree on the Serengeti in Africa.

Rule of Thirds

I managed to get the sun smack-dab in the middle of the shot. To me it looks mediocre, at best. Now how about framing things differently?

Rule of Thirds

What’s the difference between the two? Let me add the overlay again.

Rule of Thirds

Nothing interesting is going on at those lines or intersections. Heck, I didn’t even center the sun perfectly.

Rule of Thirds

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Shoot for the Eyes

Another thing to look for are eyes. If your subject has eyes, put them on one of the meridians or at the intersections. The way we connect as humans is through our eyes. With animals too. It’s a no-brainer.

Rule of Thirds and people's eyes
Rule of Thirds and people's eyes
Rule of Thirds and people's eyes
Rule of Thirds and people's eyes
Rule of Thirds and people's eyes
Lastly, if there is action, such as something moving through the frame, put it on one of the meridians and give it some place to go in the frame. Such as:

Rule of Thirds

The Rule Of Thirds is a handy place to start when trying to figure out how to frame a scene. It’s also a great jumping off place for further experimentation. It take practice to get this rule down pat, so get out there and get shooting!

That’s all for this week! Check back on Monday for another 5 days of Photography Basics, starting with a rule to help you stop getting blurry photos.

Questions?  Pop ’em like Pez in the comments section below. or email me at

Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure, and its companion 40 Photography Experiments, are series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey. The series are designed to unravel the mysteries of photography, helping you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.

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