One of those most fundamental compositional rules in photography is the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds has its roots in the world of fine art. It dates back to the Renaissance period when the artists and painters of that time noticed that centered compositions could often appear static and uninteresting. And from that they happened upon the notion that placing their main subject away from the center made for a more visually compelling piece.
The theory behind this is that an off-center subject adds an element of artistic tension because the human brain prefers order to disorder. And in that, there is implied movement as the mind’s eye works to center that subject. So, in that sense, a composition that displays its main subject away from its center triggers mental interaction and stimulation. This stimulation is missing when the subject is in the center, with equal distance all around. In that case, there’s nothing for the brain to do, no challenge to overcome. The story is told, the game is over, the ship has sailed…lights off.
Using the Rule of Thirds
So that’s the theory behind the rule of thirds. I don’t know if that’s the real reason the rule of thirds works. But I do know that following it can improve almost any image regardless of the subject matter. And that it’s a simple way of changing a static image into an interesting, dynamic and compelling one. In fact, I would argue that understanding and using the rule of thirds is the easiest way to instantly improve your photography.
To apply the rule of thirds, mentally draw a grid over your scene using three equally spaced vertical lines and three equally spaced horizontal lines. Then, in composing your photo, place your main subject along one of these lines…
…or, even better, at the points where the lines intersect known as the “power points” of the composition: