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What is the rule of thirds? A guide to framing, balance and interest

by | Learn

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The rule of thirds is one of the most basic concepts of photography. You can drastically improve your photos by following this rule, regardless of your level of experience. But what is the Rule of Thirds and how best can you implement it as a photographer?

In this article, we will discuss the fundamentals of this concept and how you can use it when you are taking photos.

What is the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds is a compositional rule used in photography and design. When applied in photography, the image or frame is divided into 9 sections by using an evenly split 3×3 grid. The idea of the rule of thirds is that the key elements of the image are placed either along the guidelines or at points where the guidelines intersect.

The rule of thirds 3×3 grid on an image. Photo by Connor Forsyth from Pexels.

You will find the option to turn on some kind of grid, including the 3×3 rule of thirds grid on almost any camera out there. This feature will make it easier for you to place the subject and other key elements without having to imagine the grid lines as you frame your shot.

Now, it is possible to take great photos without using the rule of thirds, but making use of it will significantly improve the quality of the shots you take. Let’s go through how exactly the rule helps with your framing.

How does it make my photos better?


As you frame your shot, it’s important to find the right balance between the background and foreground, and your subject and the negative space in the image. Using the 3×3 grid as you frame will help you ensure the main subject and background take up a balanced amount of space within the image.

A well-balanced background and foreground, along with the placement of the man on the left allows the eye to scan and look for a story in the image. Photo by Danny Doneo from Pexels.


Naturally, the human eye will scan the photo while the brain tries to understand what is being viewed. By placing and balancing your subject and background according to the rule of thirds, you create a natural-looking image that encourages the mind to identify the subject while exploring the background for context.

How to use it when you’re taking photos

Set up your grid

As we shared, most cameras have the option of activating guidelines. So, when these gridlines are activated, ensure to position the key elements in the main subject along these lines. The option is most likely in the ‘shooting’ menu of your camera. Check out the guides below for a few popular brands:

Position your subjects

The way you position the subjects will differ depending on the orientation of the photo you intend to take.

·  Landscape / Street: When you take landscape shots, it is recommended to position the horizon along the top or bottom horizontal grid line to create the perfect balance and symmetry. If there is a subject or point of interest, place it on one of the intersection points.

·  Portraiture: For portrait photos, you should generally position the subject along the left or the right vertical guideline. The areas of interest such as the head and eyes of the subject should be positioned close to or at the intersecting points of the guidelines.

When not to use the rule of thirds

Despite its advantages, especially in balancing out the space and creating interest in images, there are certain scenarios when it’s best not to use this rule.  Some of these include the following:

·  When you want the subject to fill the frame: There are times when it is best to have the biggest portion of the frame filled up by the main subject. For instance, when you are taking headshots.

·  When the subject is a small part of the image: In this case, you may have to position the subject in the centre of the frame, place it slightly off-centre or on the extreme edges of the frame.

·  When your subject is large: If your subject has a significant amount of presence in the image, you may find that centre-framing it works better, more so if you have background or foreground elements to frame it.

A centre-balanced image with the foreground framing the subject. Photo by Jeremy Bishop from Pexels.


The rule of thirds is very useful, especially for situations where ensuring a balance between the subject and the negative spaces in the frame is important. However, as we have discussed above, there are some situations where it is best not to use this rule. The rule of thirds is less of a rule and more of a rule of thumb; there to help you take the best shots you can, but not written into some sort of photography law. Remember to enjoy the process and be creative in your thinking and in your photography.

That’s it from us this week. Be sure to follow our social channels on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Youtube, and sign up to our newsletter, where we send a periodic round-up of articles and sneak in updates exclusively for our subscribers.

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