Guidelines For Better Photographic Composition: Rule Of Thirds

One of the most important guidelines for better photographic composition is the rule of thirds. This rule is based on the idea that an image is more pleasing to the eye when the subject is not centered in the frame, but rather off to the side. This creates a more dynamic and interesting composition. To use the rule of thirds, simply imagine a tic-tac-toe board overlaying your image. Then, place your subject at the intersections or along the lines of the grid to create a more visually pleasing composition. Of course, there are times when centering your subject can create a more powerful image, so don't be afraid to break the rules from time to time. The important thing is to be aware of the rule of thirds and to use it when it will create a more pleasing composition.

What Are Some Other Guidelines For Creating A Pleasing Composition?

Some other guidelines for creating a pleasing composition include the following:

  • Simplicity: A composition is often more pleasing when it is not overly busy or cluttered. This can be achieved by including only the most essential elements in the frame.
  • Balance: A composition can be balanced by placing the elements in the frame so that they are evenly distributed. This creates a sense of stability and order.
  • Texture: Adding texture to a composition can add interest and visual appeal. This can be achieved by including objects with different textures, or by using light and shadow to create texture.
  • Pattern: Repetition of elements can create a sense of rhythm and visual interest. This can be achieved by including objects with similar shapes or colors, or by using geometric patterns.
  • Contrast: High contrast between light and dark, or between different colors, can create a dramatic and eye-catching composition.

What Are Some Common Mistakes That People Make When Composing An Image?

Some common mistakes that people make when composing an image include the following:

  • Not considering the frame: It is important to think about what will be included in the frame, and what will be cut off. This can be done by paying attention to the edges of the frame, and by using the rule of thirds.
  • Center composition: As mentioned before, a composition is often more pleasing when the subject is not centered. This can create a more dynamic and interesting image.
  • Busy backgrounds: A busy background can distract from the subject of the image. To avoid this, it is often best to place the subject in front of a simple background.
  • Cluttered composition: A cluttered composition can be confusing and unappealing to the eye. To avoid this, it is important to only include the most essential elements in the frame.

What Are Some Other Factors To Consider When Composing An Image?

Some other factors to consider when composing an image include the following:

  • Lighting: Good lighting can make a big difference in the quality of an image. It is important to pay attention to the direction of the light, and to use it to your advantage.
  • Perspective: The perspective of an image can have a big impact on the overall composition. This includes the angle from which the image is taken, as well as the distance between the subject and the camera.
  • Subject matter: The subject matter of an image should be something that is interesting and visually appealing. This can be achieved by considering the composition, lighting, and perspective.

How It Works

You can use the rule of thirds as a guide in the off-center placement of your subjects. Here's how it works.


Before you snap the picture, imagine your picture area divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The intersections of these imaginary lines suggest four options for placing the center of interest for good composition. The option you select depends upon the subject and how you would like that subject to be presented.

Grid superimposed over gull

We picked the upper-right position for this subject so that we could see the full shadow and most of the tracks that lead to the seagull.


The lighthouse seems well placed in the upper right just because the rest of the scene fits nicely into the format.

Figure on icy pier

Here's a case where you have excellent subject control. You can have the model pose anywhere along the walkway. The rule of thirds indicates this placement which also gives the model a definite path to follow within the picture area.

Figure in tunnel

You should always consider the path of moving subjects and, generally, leave space in front of them into which they can move.

Figure running on beach

If you don't, here's what can happen! This jogger looks like she's going to run right out of the picture.

2nd view of figure running on beach

By placing the subject in the lower-left position, we've used the rule of thirds and given the jogger plenty of room to run within the picture.

X-country skiers

Here's another action shot where it's important to leave more space in front of a moving subject than behind it.

Sailboat on water-horizon middle

You can also apply the rule of thirds guidelines to the placement of the horizon in your photos. Here the center position of the boat and horizon results in a static feeling.

In photography, the horizon line can be used to create a sense of balance in an image. Moving the horizon line up or down in an image can change the overall composition. For instance, placing the horizon line in the middle of an image can give the impression of stability, while placing the horizon line towards the top or bottom of an image can create a sense of movement.

Sailboat on water-horizon upper 3rd

Let's move the horizon to the upper third and the sailboat to the left. Remember, these are the only guidelines. So if you don't like this subject placement, try another.

Sailboat on water-horizon lower 3rd

Like this. We've moved the horizon line to the lower third. In general, place the horizon high or low in your scenics, but rarely in the middle.

2 views of ski lift

Just as it's usually best to place horizons off center, it's also best to place verticals off center. For instance, in the picture on the left, the subject is centered, but on the right, the photographer got a more effective photograph by simply changing the viewpoint.