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Composition: Rule of Thirds

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Although this is intended for the beginning photographer, almost anyone can utilize this technique to improve their compositions.  This is only a guideline, a tool, to strengthen your composition in certain situations.  While there are certainly many, many elements to composing a strong photograph with impact, using the "Rule of Thirds" will help you develop an "eye" for good compositions.  

Learning and applying the Rule of Thirds is easy.  When looking through the viewfinder and composing an image, simply imagine the frame being divided evenly in to 3 sections, both horizontally and vertically - as shown above.  The intersection of those lines - where the circles are drawn - represent the strongest location in the image for your main subject.  Let's see how this can be applied with some examples.  

Hover your mouse over an image

Example #1  already starts out with a confusing application of the rule.  But by hovering over the image with your mouse, you can see that there are two competing subjects place nearly exactly at the intersecting lines.  Because of the strength of these locations in the image, the cloud and the windmills seem to compete.  But what is really happening is the creation of a very strong dynamic between the two which tells the story;  the winds creating a dynamic cloud formation, while windmills harness that energy.

Example #2  This is a strong example of applying the Rule of Thirds. The main subject, which is the wheel and sprinkler piping, is located in a strong position, emphasizing the subject matter.  Another compositional element is the use of "lead-in" lines.  When viewing the image, the piping takes your eye into the image allowing you to see the supporting elements, the trees and farmhouse - as well as the setting sun behind the fog.

Example #3  Landscape images with foreground objects do very well when applying the Rule of Thirds, as shown here.  You may have learned that landscapes should have foreground, middleground and background.  The Rule of Thirds applies here as you can use the horizontal lines as mental dividers when composing your landscapes.  Here you have the old log as the foreground element, leading you through the middle with the horizon and sky filling up the upper third of the image.  Remember there are no composition police, this is just a guideline and it doesn't mean you should apply the rule all the time.

Example #4  Here in we know the main subject is the poppy.  One of the main reasons for the pleasing compositions is the placement of the upper flower.  Although the lower poppy is also located at an intersection, in this image it is simply a strong supporting element.  

     Example #5  is another demonstration of dividing an image into thirds.  While there is nothing wrong with having your horizon split the middle of the frame, what you may end up with is something confusing to the viewer.  Which part of the image was important to the photographer?  By lowering or raising the angle of the camera, you can emphasize either the sky, or the foreground.  In this case, the beautiful sky is emphasized, which is why about 2/3 of the image is the sky, the lower 1/3 is now just a solid base to the image.
     Now you can add the "Rule of Thirds" to your photography toolbag.  Just keep in mind that most rules in photography are not rules, but guidelines.  There are many applications where centering a subject or splitting the frame in half are appropriate; reflections and symetrical objects are a couple of examples.  But keep this one in your back pocket - it's sure to bring you home some images with impact.

Good luck and Happy Shooting!

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