The Rule of Thirds: A Rant

There is a discussion about “the rule of thirds” taking place on a popular nature photography forum. I must admit I’m a bit surprised by some of the responses. Many of them show a general misunderstanding of the concept. The following is my reply… perhaps better described as my rant.

I must admit I’m a bit surprised by what seems to me to be a general misunderstanding of the “rule of thirds.” The recurring arguments against it are all very related – “wasted pixels,” “too much negative space,” “the subject is too small in the frame” and so on. “Thirds” does not dictate that the entire subject has to be placed on an intersect or along one of the vertical or horizontal lines. Many times it’s just placing an important portion of the subject on an intersect. An eye being a wonderful example, or maybe the head of the animal. Even with no environmental space in an image, an extreme close up, “thirds” can be applied. Additionally, it’s not just about the interest points. Placing an object being photographed along a vertical or horizontal line of “thirds” is an example of using that compositional concept.

After doing a little googling I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if a lot of folks don’t completely “get” the rule of thirds. I looked at a lot of online articles and most of them used images where there was a lot of negative space surrounding the subject as sample images. There were a few exceptions here and there. Very few. I did find a couple of articles that did a bit better job with explaining the concept and with the sample photos used. I’m including the links below.

http://jakegarn.com/the-rule-of-thirds/

http://ruleofthirdsphotography.com/

In this article the author discusses ways to “break the rule of thirds.” He starts out with a few examples of images using “thirds” followed by examples of breaking the rules. The problem being roughly half of his images that are supposed to be examples of breaking the rule actually embrace it! If you look you’ll notice things like the eyes along on near a horizontal line of thirds, an upright along the vertical line, a horizon on or slightly below a horizontal line of thirds, a blur of movement along a horizontal guide line of “thirds.” Other examples, while breaking “thirds,” simply embrace other compositional concepts. (The rule of thirds is not the only compositional guide we should be familiar with.).

https://www.photocrowd.com/w/10-three-ways-break-rule-thirds

“Thirds” is but one of many, many compositional concepts. There are many times that an image will work well without applying “thirds.” But in almost every case of breaking “thirds” another compositional concept (or two or three) has been applied. I’ve mentioned this book before but I’ll recommend it one more time: “The Photographers Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photographs” by Michael Freeman. http://www.amazon.com/The-Photographers-Eye-Composition-Digital/dp/0240809343. It is an excellent, understandable study on composition.

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