WPC: Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is applied by aligning a subject with the guide lines and their intersection points, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section.

summer rule of thirds

The theory is that if you place the point(s) of interest at the intersections, or along the lines you will have a better balanced image and the viewer will interact more naturally. With the photo above you can see that the main figures in this image are more or less in the bottom left sector and the main interest is in the lower half of the photo. I should have balanced the image though by having the horizon along the upper horizontal line.


In learning how to use the rule of thirds (and then to break it) the most important questions to be asking of yourself are:

  • What are the points of interest in this shot?
  • Where am I intentionally placing them?

Wagonga 2

Sometimes it will be necessary to use cropping and editing to re-frame the image so it fits the rules as I have done with the photo below. I liked the pelican and the jetty posts, but felt that the photo was uninteresting overall.


To my eye there was too much unnecessary space on the right of the shot. I wanted to balance the pelican in line with the intersection on the right with its head and beak on the upper horizontal line.

Wagonga 3a

So I did a little cropping from the left and right-hand sides to align the pelican and the post and because the background was a little dull I also converted it to black and white and upped the contrast slightly. Hopefully this has resulted in a better balanced and more interesting image.

Wagonga 3

When taking a close-up or macro shot you might also find yourself with a lovely bokeh background, where the out-of-focus parts are aesthetically blurred, but the subject is sharp. Again, think of the rule of thirds as to where you position your subject.

flamingo plant

Rules are of course meant to be broken, but it is worthwhile understanding the ‘rules of thirds’ first so that you understand why you want to break the rule.

lunchThis creative plate of food is more or less centred in my photograph. The reason for this is because I want you to focus on the food, and this composition felt right to me. I often shoot on instinct and although I have the idea of the ‘rules of thirds’ in my head I also consider the subject, the light and how I want to ‘frame’ the image.

I hope you find this useful and if you have any additional information to add then please do so in the comments. I’m not a ‘technical’ photographer so I have explained this in very simplistic terms.


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I now live back in the UK, but spent several years travelling the world and then living in South Africa. I look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

88 thoughts on “WPC: Rule of Thirds”

    1. I did think the challenge was a little misleading – more to do with bokeh than rules of thirds, but I hope I have explained both elements of photography in simple terms. (I only know simple terms!)

    1. Ah, I should have known and that’s Meg on the jetty – we went on a boat cruise around this water inlet which was really lovely and peaceful. Even spotted a sea eagle, but my photo was not impressive 🙂

  1. That took me back to my earliest days of serious photography, in the early 1980s. I abandoned the rule early on, unless it was for beach scenes and some landscapes. Even then, it didn’t always work for me. Strangely enough, I still use ‘grid view’ in my digital SLR, something I had to pay extra for, in my 35mm camera, as a viewfinder insert screen. It became a habit to have the grid, even if I didn’t always use it to the letter of the ‘law’.
    Good post Jude, instructive for many.
    Regards as always, Pete. x.

    1. I think I have always avoided ‘centring’ the subject by instinct without knowing about the ‘rules’. But I guess for a beginner photographer it is useful to be aware that altering the position of your subject can change the perception of the viewer. I don’t use a grid on my camera. I shall have to see if I have one I can turn on!
      Thanks for the comment Pete 🙂

      1. Most modern SLR cameras include it in the menu options somewhere. I still like to have it, and find it useful for levelling and horizons. If you can’t see it on the camera, I am sure that you can find out how to activate it by searching on the web. There is very little that is not online these days-fortunatelyx

    1. Instinct is probably the most important aspect and one that is least able to be taught. But I do believe practice helps. I consider my images much more now than just snapping away.

        1. Depending on the lens, it may not have a larger aperture than f3.5 This often applies to zoom lenses, and those on some bridge cameras. It should be marked around the lens, in small type. Something like f3.5-f4.5, or similar. Hope that helps.

        2. My camera is a bridge camera and the lowest aperture is f4.2
          To be honest I nearly always use an auto mode of which there are several and I do alter the ISO and white balance sometimes. I find that I get the best Bokeh effect when I take a photo from a distance and zoom in on the subject, rather than doing anything fancy with the camera! I sometimes feel that I should understand my camera settings more, but I’m usually happy with my results and IMO that’s what counts 😀

        3. a bridge camera is more than a compact but less than a DSLR so it has a lot of features and a decent lens and zoom range. The lens is permanently attached and the camera is too big to fit into your pocket. I find it easier to hold than a compact.

        4. Hmm, I’m thinking my new Panasonic TZ60 is a bridge camera. It has some great features and a fantastic zoom. But it is very small and light…perfect for the kind of photography I do. All the Tokyo photos were taken with it and I’m very happy with how they turned out.

        5. Yours is a compact camera – one that fits in the pocket. We have two earlier versions of that – not as good a zoom, but terrific cameras. The Panasonic uses Leica lens which are very good. You have the 30x zoom which my Fuji has which I like as you can get in quite close for detail shots. My camera is more like a DSLR size which I find easier to hold.

        6. I’m thrilled with it, especially because it is so small and light. When we are travelling I just carry it on a strap around my neck so it’s there any time I want to take a photo. I have been very happy with the photos I’ve taken and I did spend some time working my way through the manual, but I need to do that again before our next trip.

  2. Jude – I really enjoyed this post and THANKS for your feedback on the comment with ray – it helped me to learn a bit more – and I wish I would have read your post here earlier today too – but I was too focused on the benches at that time….

    anyhow, I did a bit more reading up on the ratio and golden mean Ray was referring to and found that I disagree with his opinion even more. He was making it much more complicated than it had to be… and the bottom line is that the role of thirds is not the same as Phi grid….

    “When applied to photography, this (Fibonacci )ratio can produce aesthetically pleasing compositions that can be magnets for the human sub-conscious. When you take the sweet spot of the Fibonnaci Ratio and recreate it four times into a grid, you get what looks to be a rule of thirds grid. However, upon closer inspection you will see that this grid is not an exact splitting of the frame into three pieces. Instead of a 3 piece grid that goes 1+1+1=frame, you get a grid that goes 1+.618+1=frame.
    (more here: http://digital-photography-school.com/divine-composition-with-fibonaccis-ratio-the-rule-of-thirds-on-steroids/)

    1. At the end of the day it’s what YOU like that counts. I didn’t know about Fibonacci’s Ratio as a tool for composing photos. Sometimes an image can be just as pleasing having the subject slap bang in the centre!

  3. Very good explanation and photographs. I agree, it comes naturally when you’ve been shooting for a long time, but for many, it is not an intuitive idea. Well done.

    1. Sadly the lovely blue sky had gone by the time we got back to the jetty and saw the pelicans. I have better images, but I think this one helped demonstrate the RoT concept best. Glad you like it 🙂

    1. I thought the challenge explanation was misleading. RoT has nothing to do with Bokeh. So I wanted to create a post that hopefully explained the terms more clearly.

      1. I’m a super novice (only two years) in the photog world. Everyday, I learn a great deal about it. There are many wonderful talented photographers willing to share their talent. I’m proud to say that photography has opened my eyes to see things I normally would have overlooked. My world is visually bigger now. 😍

    1. The original instructions were a bit clouded I think. I have never associated the term Bokeh with anything but the background, whereas the RoT is something to instinctively consider in any photograph.

    1. Thank you Gilly 🙂
      A shame the blue sky didn’t last, unfortunately it got cloudy by the end of the cruise, hence the dull pelican shot. But a lovely day out with Meg. So many memories.

    1. I certainly don’t consciously think about it, but I do take the time to frame a photo these days. I hope this wasn’t too technical – I don’t use aperture settings or shutter settings manually so can’t explain in that language!

  4. Well done, Jude….nice explanation for those that don’t know RoT….like you, I thought the WordPress explanation rather lame and definitely misleading with all the Bokeh stuff!

  5. Very clear explanation of the rule of thirds Jude, doing the exercise with the pelican made it even clearer. I have a grid on my camera screen that I can turn on and off, but I usually have it on for scenic shots as it also helps keep the horizon straight. The term Bokeh was a new one to me and I have used that technique in the past but didn’t know it had a name…

    1. Japanese I think – bokeh – I only came across it on Flickr a few years ago and had created photos with blurry backgrounds for ages! There are even bokeh effects on some software apps now, though most look very artificial.

    1. Sylvia I am no photographic expert, I leave most settings to the camera and use only a bridge zoom and a compact zoom. But I do like being creative and maybe that’s what comes across to people 🙂

    1. I shall have to pop over to yours Tina. I am certain it will be far superior to my post. You can explain this in much more technical terms than I am able to. Hopefully my explanation demonstrates the difference in deciding where to place your subject, which is really the point of the rule of thirds.

  6. I always appreciate photographers who include some direction and explanation in their posts. It helps the newbies like me … I still struggle with basics like composition. Thanks for your simplified illustrations.

    btw – I too loved the 2nd photo 🙂

    1. I’m not a technical photographer Jo so don’t usually feel confident explaining “how to” but in this instance I felt that the original directions were misleading. I am so glad you liked the post.

  7. Thanks for this Jude. I’m grappling with this whole ‘rule of thirds’ thing, not really understanding it. This helped. I tend to take photos with the point of interest off to the side just because I like it that way, but have no idea about the technical terms for it. I’ve also never heard of a ‘bokeh’ background, although I did take a look over at the WP photo challenge explanation for that. Love yours 🙂 So now I’m going to have to have a think and see if I’ve got the gist of it or not…

    1. Sherri I think most photographers instinctively compose their images in a way to interact with their viewers. Generally speaking slapping your subject in the centre is less appealing, but there are times when this works well. Bokeh happens with a shallow DOF (depth of field) where the focus in on a small area of the subject and the rest of the photo becomes blurred. Professional cameras do this very well, less so with the smaller sensors of compact cameras.

      I shouldn’t worry about the techie stuff too much, just do what YOU like 🙂

      (BTW I am going to ask you to join in the B&W 5 day challenge that is going around at the moment. I think you could produce some great B&W shots so I hope you’ll consider joining in. Watch out for Day 3)

      1. Thanks Jude, this is great advice, but sorry for not getting back to you sooner (been one of ‘those’ weeks…) Just read your other comment too about the B&W challenge. Thanks so much for inviting me, you have great faith in me my friend! I have actually been asked by another blogger, Lilka, to take part and I told her I would be able to starting the week Monday, 9th March, but now I will also link to you too when I do 🙂 Right, over to your other posts now to catch up…

  8. I’m really glad you did the explanation – I was beginning to wonder if I’d got rule of thirds all wrong. And of course I loved the photos, reminding me of a great day with you, and home.

    1. Finally I managed to get some more images of the lovely Eurobodalla region onto the blog! I had the most wonderful time with you. Thank you again for being such a lovely host 🙂

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