The rule of thirds is one of the first principles we come across if we start delving in to image composition. The rule was originally developed for paintings, but of course it applies equally to photographs. As a principle it has endured pretty well, it’s first description being attributed to an 18th painter called Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

So what is the rule of thirds?
Counter-intuitively, you do not divide the image in to thirds. Rather you divide the image in to nine sections with two vertical and two horizontal lines.

rRule of Thirds diagram Colin Munro Photography

Rule of Thirds

The idea is that objects of interest in the image should be placed either at intersects of lines or along the lines dividing the image. This, according the rule, creates a more pleasing balance to the image than simply placing the object of interest in the centre of the image.

Sunrise over mudflats, Exe Estuary near Cockwood Harbour. Colin Munro Photography. www.colinmunrophotography.com

Sunrise over mudflats, Exe Estuary near Cockwood Harbour.

Image illustrating rule of thirds. Sunrise over mudflats, Exe Estuary near Cockwood Harbour. Colin Munro Photography

Image with lines showing horizon lying roughly along upper line, sun near top right intersect.

In the above image, placing the horizon roughly along the upper horizontal line, and the sun roughly in line with the intersect of the upper horizontal and the right hand vertical, follows the rule. For me at least, it works here, creating a far more appealing image than if the horizon lay along the mid-line of the image, or the sun placed centrally.

 

As with all rules, rules are meant to be broken. Sometimes by breaking a convention one can make the image more arresting. When to do that is ultimately a personal decision, but it always helps to understand the rule you are breaking.

Heavy rain clouds above Teignmouth Pier, Teignmouth, Devon. Colin Munro Photography

Heavy rain clouds above Teignmouth Pier, Teignmouth, Devon, England, UK.

I will be running a series of One day Landscape Photography Courses in Devon. First is around the Exe Estuary on 24th of November, details here
You can find out about more of my Photography and Photoshop Courses here