For many cultures, the number three has had great significance. The earth is the third planet from the sun. Many religions consider three a divine number. Three is also the first odd prime number. Today, we're going to talk about another kind of three; The Rule of Thirds. This is the first entry in my Keys to Composition Series, where I'll discuss the basics of how to create a solid image. We'll discuss things such as basic composition (Rule of Thirds), lighting, camera angles, color theory etc. as well as basic technical aspects of your DSLR camera like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Don't worry guys. I'll cover more advanced stuff as well!
The Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is actually pretty simple. You take your frame, and divide it into three equal parts, both vertically, and horizontally, as if you were playing tic-tac-toe. Some cameras even have this feature built into the screen or viewfinder. If you use an iPhone, you can toggle an overlay in the camera app that is very useful for this purpose. When doing this, you want to position your subject so that your focal area is close to the intersection of these lines. This adds emphasis and interest to your composition.
A good example of this would be this picture of a biker that I took on assignment last week. While not a perfect image by any means, look at how the front tire is sitting at the bottom right intersection. By doing that, the eye is drawn to the frame of the bike, and the build is really emphasized. In addition, the biker's head, which is a secondary focal point, is sitting on the top left intersection of the rule of third lines. Sometimes, this can lead to confusion, but I think it works very well for this particular image.
Why it works
The Rule of Thirds is essentially a photographer's shorthand for the Golden Ratio. Centuries ago, people like Pythagoras and Euclid (the guys despised by middle schoolers around the world, but loved by engineers and physicists) realized that there was a certain dimensional ratio that was very pleasing to the human eye. This ratio is a formula based on the Fibonacci Sequence. This sequence is a series of numbers that when two are added together, they result in the next number in the sequence (eg. 1,1,2,3,5,8,13, Etc.). Through a lot of complicated math involving these numbers, you eventually reach a ratio of 1.61803399 or 2/3. When you divide a frame evenly with this ratio, you get a result similar to what I showed you above While a strict adherence to the ratio dictates a slightly more centered division of the frame than using the Rule of Thirds, the principle of putting your subject slightly off center remains the same.
There are other ways to use this ratio in framing your photos, such as the golden triangle, which is used a lot in wide angle landscape and architecture shots, and the golden spiral, which is used in a lot of nature photography, particularly of flowers. I'm not going to go in depth with those, because I don't use those myself too often, but know that they are out there, and can be used to great effect.
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