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Rules to Make; Rules to Break - The Rule of Thirds

As much as we as a collective society complain about rules that we have to follow, come on, we need to admit that having rules is fun, because without them, there would be nothing to break. Its the eternal cat and mouse, catch me if you can game. In photography there are specific rules one needs to follow. They are foundational and necessary to cut your teeth on as you make your way through the never ending maze of photographic technicalities. One of the big rules to learn and make, is the Rule of Thirds. Then its fun to break it, once you understand the concept. So, what is the Rule of Thirds, you may ask?

The Rule Of Thirds....

In photography, the Rule of Thirds exists in which a photographic composition is divided evenly into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Then, with the imaginary 3 x 3 grid of 9 segments formed by two horizontal and vertical lines each, the image’s main subject, or focal point, is positioned at the intersection of those dividing lines.

When a photographer is implementing the Rule of Thirds, there are four points of interest, each of these four points are at the intersecting points of the grid. In an ideal situation, you would place your subject on one of these points of interest. However, this is not always possible. For example photographing sports, children playing, or any moving object, can prove difficult to place the main subject on one of the desired points of interest, and that is perfectly acceptable.

In today's mega-modern world of photography post processing an image makes it much easier to adjust it with the cropping tool on one of the endless photography editing systems you can download.

Creating invisible diagonals is another method to consider in the Rule of Thirds. An invisible diagonal occurs when you esatblish a main point of interest and then place a secondary subject on an intersecting option point, which creates an invisible slant connecting the secondary subject to the primary one.

The Rule of Thirds actually goes back to as early as 1797 and it involved the placement of primary and auxiliary subjects properly on the canvas by painters. As photography established its roots, the rule of thirds naturally was adopted by the early "light painters" as a general rule for photographic composition. Today, 220 years on, one would be hard pressed to find a digital camera, regardless of the manufacturer, that does not display a Rule of Thirds grid pattern on it.

There are two important reasons the Rule of Thirds is important to the photographer:

1) Balance of a composition

2) Movement of the composition, or in more technical terms, the dynamism of a photograph.

Breaking The Rule Of Thirds!

Of course, there are still rules that are made to be broken. As stated above, there will be times and situations wherein the Rule of Thirds is ineffective; thus, you will still need to learn how to do it. Disengaging with the guidelines can make the photo more engaging, and dynamic:

1. Jettison the grid for bolder shapes. Try a rule of three triangles, or a rule of three circles, or rule of three squares.

2. Use the rule to govern depth in your frame. Try three different levels of focus as a compositional tool.

3. Force perspective on your frame. Position characters where they shouldn’t be.

4. Go out and shoot with a sketchbook rather than a camera and only draw scenes using circles, triangles and squares. This is one of the many times that drawing and photography join in an incredibly useful union.

To conclude, knowing the rules of any artistic medium, and why they exist is important. However, once understood and the reason behind them, live a little! Dare to be counter-intuitive, and color outside the lines if you wish. In an earlier blog post I stated that photography makes the photographer a "little god." This is your universe, create away!

Grab a camera and tell a story!!!!


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