The Rule of Thirds is not a rule simply limited to film photography, but has been used in all compositional art since the Renaissance. Renaissance painters realized that the human eye doesn’t rest on the center of a photograph, but instead scans the edges, and so the rule of thirds was developed. For film photography enthusiasts, the rule of thirds is fairly simple, it aims to create a photograph that puts the subject of the image off center to create a sense of balance and draw the viewer’s eye to the subject.
The basic idea behind the rule of thirds is to break down the frame, or image, into vertical and horizontal thirds – as depicted in this image on the right. Much like the Renaissance painters discovered, studies have shown that the human eye naturally sees one of these four intersecting points (highlighted in green) first before anything else. Naturally, it only makes sense to place your subject at one of those four points. While photographing, keep this grid in mind and you can identify the four important parts of the frame following the rule of thirds.
Creating Composition with the Rule of Thirds
Aside from leading the eye directly to the subject, the rule of thirds can be used to enhance composition or place emphasis on certain areas of the photograph.
For motion photography, the rule of thirds can further express motion or action. If, for example, an object is moving from left to right, then using the rules of thirds to position to object on the left side will further enhance the idea that it is moving to the right side of the frame.
In landscape photography, the rule of thirds can place emphasis on the horizon line and what is above or below it. To emphasize the sky of on image, place the horizon line on the lower line in the rule of thirds, and conversely for emphasis on the land, place the horizon line on the higher line in the rule of thirds.
See a rule of thirds example for a visual look at the rule of thirds used to create a photograph.