A Rule of Thirds Article That Won't Put You to Sleep - Enlight Leak
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A Rule of Thirds Article That Won’t Put You to Sleep

March 3, 2016
Rule of Thirds | Enlight Leak

Sure, your iPhone offers a plethora of tools to edit and enhance your photograph – but there’s no substitute for a good eye and great composition. Situating your subject in the frame with intention is the best way to ensure an interesting shot. That’s where the Rule of Thirds comes in.

Like any other creative “rule,” the Rule of Thirds is really just a suggestion. Rest assured, the Photography Police won’t be knocking down any doors if you go rogue. However, for those just learning photography, the Rule of Thirds offers a compelling introduction to understanding composition.

Simply divide your frame into 3 equal columns and 3 equal rows. You should have a grid of 9 equal rectangles. The Rule of Thirds proposes that you place your subject, or a point of visual interest, along one of the grid’s lines or at one of its intersections. The idea is to introduce a bit of tension and energy by keeping things asymmetrical (not putting your subject smack-dab in the middle of your photo), but still balanced (the “negative space” on one side balances the presence of the subject on the other).

An easy way to visualize this is by using one of the horizontal grid lines to match your horizon:

Rule of Thirds | Enlight Leak

In this example, the city takes up ⅔ of the image, with the sky occupying the remaining ⅓. One can flip it as well, with the sky occupying ⅔ of the frame:

Rule of Thirds | Enlight Leak

Remember, also, that the image need not be in the “landscape” (wide) orientation. The Rule of Thirds works for “portrait” (tall) orientated photos as well:

silhouette

To help you “see” the Rule of Thirds in real-time, you can enable a live grid overlay on the native iPhone camera app:

1. Launch your phone’s Settings app.

2. Scroll down and select Photos & Camera

3. Scroll down again to find the Camera section.

4. Locate the grid option and tap the slider to activate it.

Rule of Thirds | Enlight Leak

Now you’ll see the 3×3 grid overlaid on your camera screen when you go to take photos. This will help you frame your shots more exactly, placing the focus of the shot’s action exactly on an intersection of the grid lines.

Rule of Thirds | Enlight Leak

Rule of Thirds | Enlight Leak

Placing an eye of your subject – in sharp focus – right on one of the intersections is a tried-and-true way to frame your image:

Rule of Thirds | Enlight Leak

But there’s no need to be pedantic about the grid lines. Using them as a guide can be helpful as well. And you can always use Enlight after capturing your shot to crop your photo to better match the grid:

1. Open Enlight, select your photo from the Photo Drawer along the bottom.

2. Tap Canvas from the menu on the right.

3. Select Crop.

4. Enlight overlays a Rule of Thirds-compliant grid over your photo. As you adjust it to crop your photo, pay attention to where the lines and intersections fall. You can also Straighten your photo to make horizon lines straighter.

5. Tap the ✓ in the top right to apply your new crop.

It’s important to remember that the Rule of Thirds is a tool not an ends. Always do what’s best for your photo, not what some photographer on the Internet says! In this photo, the Rule of Thirds helps direct the viewer’s eye, even though a more “strict” interpretation might have yielded a slightly different crop:

Rule of Thirds | Enlight Leak

Rule of Thirds | Enlight Leak

The “horizon line” in this photo does not lie on the grid line, but the photo remains balanced because of the clock’s massive “weight” being positioned just right, using the intersecting grid lines as a guide.

Rule of Thirds | Enlight Leak

And all rules are meant to be completely broken from time to time, right? Think of the Rule of Thirds as training wheels. As an exercise, it’s meant to help you consider your composition, rather than just pointing your camera at something nice and clicking the shutter. It helps novice photographers break out of the “must-center-everything” mentality, and be more conscientious about their framing.

The principles of the Rule of Thirds are the same as good composition in general: creating an image with balance, tension, intrigue, and movement. One you find yourself shifting, rolling, squeezing, jumping, moving, bending, twisting to get a more perfectly-framed shot, you’ll know you’ve internalized these principles, even if you don’t apply the Rule of Thirds literally with each shot.

Want more composition tips? Stay tuned next week and learn how leading lines can upgrade your images.
 
 

Writing & images by: Shai Davis.

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Shai Davis
Shai Davis

Shai Davis is a photographer, educator, and entrepreneur. Over the past several years, he has taught thousands of aspiring artists from all over 35 countries how to use their lenses - whether attached to DSLRs or phones - to capture their worlds and imaginations. With a degree in Visual Arts from Harvard, Shai is a lifelong shutterbug. Follow him on Instagram at @shaidavis.

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