What is The Rule of Thirds in Photography? – Complete Guide

The rule of thirds is one of the most fundamental principles in photography, and it serves as a guiding principle for composing visually engaging and balanced images. By understanding and implementing the rule of thirds, photographers can transform ordinary shots into captivating works of art.

This comprehensive article will explore the famous rule of thirds, its origins, and why it is crucial in photography. We will also delve into various aspects of the rule of thirds, such as its application in different genres of photography, including landscape, portrait, film, architecture, macro, and wildlife.

rule of thirds in photography

Whether a beginner or an experienced photographer, mastering the rule of thirds will undoubtedly elevate your photography to the next level.

Rule of Thirds in Photography: Definition

The rule of thirds is a composition approach used in photography and other visual arts. Two horizontal and two vertical lines split the picture into nine identical halves. The scene’s key elements are placed along these lines or at their intersections rather than at the center of the frame. This creates a more visually pleasing and balanced composition, drawing the viewer’s attention to the subject and adding a sense of dynamism to the image.


The rule of thirds shading is a variation of the rule of thirds, where specific areas of the frame are shaded to indicate where the main subject and other elements should be placed. This shading is often seen in viewfinders or screen overlays to assist photographers in composing their shots.


The rule of thirds grid is a visual aid photographers use to compose their shots. It splits the frame into nine identical halves using vertical and horizontal lines.

3*3 grid of rule of thirds


Who Invented the Rule of Thirds?

The rule of thirds has its roots in the works of John Thomas Smith, an 18th-century English painter and art theorist. In 1797, Smith wrote about the “Rule of Thirds” in his book titled “Remarks on Rural Scenery.” He observed that the most pleasing landscapes had key elements positioned around one-third of the way from the top or bottom and one-third from the left or right of the canvas.

Is the Rule of Thirds Framing?

The rule of thirds is not directly related to framing in photography. Framing refers to using elements within the scene to enclose the main subject, directing the viewer’s gaze toward it. While framing and the rule of thirds can work together to create compelling compositions, they are distinct composition techniques.

The Rule of Thirds: Why Is It Called That?

Splitting the image into three equal sections horizontally and vertically creates a grid of nine squares, which is how the rule of thirds gets its name.

The image gains balance and visual appeal by placing key elements along these lines or intersections, making it an essential “rule” for photographers and artists.

The Importance of the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds plays a vital role in photography for several reasons:

Visual Interest and Balance

By placing the subject off-center, the rule of thirds adds visual interest and creates a sense of balance within the frame.

Guided Composition

The grid provided by the rule of thirds guides photographers to compose their shots effectively.

Dynamic Composition

Off-center placement of key elements adds a dynamic quality to the image, preventing it from appearing static or dull.

Subject Emphasis

The rule of thirds ensures that the main subject receives the attention it deserves, drawing the viewer’s eye to the focal point.

Enhanced Storytelling

Photographers can tell a more compelling and narrative-driven story through their images by thoughtfully positioning elements.

Rule of Thirds for Beginners

For beginner photographers, the rule of thirds is an excellent starting point for improving their composition skills. Here’s how to use the rule of thirds effectively:

wedding photography using rule of thirds

Enable Grid Lines

Most cameras and smartphones offer the option to display grid lines on the screen. Enable this feature to help you visualize the rule of thirds while composing your shots.

Place the Subject on the Lines or Intersections

Position the main subject along the grid lines or at their intersections. This will give your image a more balanced and visually appealing composition.

Consider the Background

Pay attention to the background and ensure that it complements the subject rather than distracting from it.

Experiment with Off-Center Subjects

If you want to make your composition more dynamic and compelling, feel free to put your subject slightly off-center.

Practice and Review

Practice using the rule of thirds in various situations, and review your images to see how this technique impacts the overall composition.

Why Do We Use the Rule of Thirds in Photography?

Because it improves the composition and overall impact of the photos, the rule of thirds is frequently utilized in photography. Some reasons why photographers use the rule of thirds include:

1. Professional Quality

Implementing the rule of thirds instantly elevates the quality of photographs, making them appear more professional and aesthetically pleasing.

2. Artistic Expression

Photographers can use the rule of thirds to express their artistic vision and create captivating and impactful images.

3. Storytelling

Placing key elements using the rule of thirds helps photographers tell a more compelling and engaging visual story.

4. Emphasis on the Subject

By placing the subject off-center, the rule of thirds emphasizes its importance within the frame, capturing the viewer’s attention.

5. Better Balance

The rule of thirds helps achieve a balanced composition, making the image more harmonious and visually appealing.

Rule of Thirds in Photography: Examples and Techniques

The Rule of Thirds is one of the most essential and widely used principles in photography composition. It involves dividing the image frame into a 3×3 grid with two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, resulting in four points of intersection. Placing key elements along these lines or at their intersections creates visually engaging and pleasing photographs. Let’s explore some examples and techniques of how the Rule of Thirds can be applied effectively in photography:

1. Portrait Photography:

In portrait photography, the Rule of Thirds can position the subject’s eyes at one of the upper horizontal lines’ intersections. This placement draws attention to the subject’s eyes, often considered a portrait’s most important and expressive part. The rest of the face and the background can then be arranged accordingly to complement the subject’s eye and expression.

2. Rule of Thirds in Film:

In filmmaking, the rule of thirds is a crucial technique to effectively compose shots that convey emotions, perspectives, and storytelling. Filmmakers create visually engaging and dynamic frames by placing key elements along the grid lines or intersections.

3.  The Rule of Thirds in Headshot:

When capturing headshot portraits, photographers can apply the rule of thirds by positioning the subject’s eyes along the top horizontal line or at the intersections, resulting in a well-balanced and visually pleasing headshot.

4. Landscape Photography:

When photographing landscapes, the Rule of Thirds can assist in producing a balanced and eye-catching composition. For example, in a seascape photograph, positioning the horizon along one of the horizontal lines (upper or lower) allows you to emphasize the sky or the water, depending on what you find more interesting. Placing prominent elements like a lighthouse or a tree at the intersections adds depth and interest to the image.

5. Wildlife Photography:

The Rule of Thirds in wildlife photography can highlight the animal’s eyes or other critical features. Placing the eyes of a bird, for instance, at an intersection point draws attention to the subject’s expression and enhances the overall impact of the photograph. Additionally, positioning the animal along one of the vertical lines can provide a sense of direction and movement.

6. Street Photography:

In street photography, spontaneity and quick reactions are crucial. Placing the main subject, such as a person or a street performer, along one of the vertical lines can help create a strong and balanced image, even in dynamic and rapidly changing situations.

7. Macro Photography:

In macro photography, where you capture close-up details of small subjects, the Rule of Thirds can guide your viewers’ attention to specific features. Placing a flower’s stamen or an insect’s eye at an intersection point can add interest and intrigue to the image, making it more visually engaging.

8. Architectural Photography:

The Rule of Thirds can be used in architectural photography to convey the beauty and symmetry of structures. For instance, positioning the main facade along one of the vertical lines helps showcase its scale and symmetry, while aligning the building’s horizontal lines with the grid enhances its sense of balance and stability.

9. Rule of Thirds and Leading Lines:

The Rule of Thirds can be combined with leading lines to create strong compositions. For example, using a road or a pathway as a leading line to an intersection point can draw the viewer’s eye through the image and add depth to the photograph.

Remember, while the Rule of Thirds is a valuable guideline, it is not a rigid rule. Experimenting and finding what works best for each scene and subject is essential. As you practice incorporating the Rule of Thirds into your photography, you will develop an intuitive sense of composition that will elevate the impact of your images and help you tell more compelling visual stories.


A fundamental idea in photography, the rule of thirds improves composition, visual intrigue, and narrative. Photographers can create captivating and balanced images that resonate with viewers by dividing the image into nine equal parts and thoughtfully placing key elements along the grid lines or intersections. Whether you are:

  • A beginner or an experienced photographer.
  • Mastering the rule of thirds will elevate your photography to new heights.
  • Allowing you to convey your artistic vision and tell compelling visual stories.

So, experiment with the rule of thirds, explore its various applications in different genres, and unleash your creativity in every frame you capture

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