Apparently I’ve got the “rule of thirds” wrong all this time.

When I first got interested in photography some 15 years ago, I borrowed books on photography at the library. I don’t remember much about what I read except that one of the basic principles of good photo composition is the “rule of thirds“. Another guideline was to have the subject off-centre in the picture.


Since then, I would often mentally divide the frame into thirds and place the subject in the centre of one of the nine sections except for the square in the middle. I just realised that this is not exactly what the “rule of thirds” means.

How did I end up with such an idea for framing my pictures? Beats me.

Ponte Luís I (Dom Luís bridge) - F1000034 - Kodak Portra 400r

Anyhow, rules are made to be broken. The “rule of thirds” serves as a general guide, not something that must be adhered to. As AB said, it would be boring if everyone took photos in the same manner. What do you think?

Kinderdijk windmills

18 replies on “Rule of Thirds… or not

  1. Yes, many times the Rule of Thirds is understood that way. And rules indeed are guidelines, to be tried and tested. It is a bit technical but there are other guidelines which can be helpful when framing a shot, the easiest one being Leading Lines, then we have the Golden Ration, which works well for landscapes photos, and the Golden Spiral, which I find the hardest. It’s lucky if you can crop images in Photoshop, the crop tool lets you choose which ‘view’ you would like to have. Sometimes can be a real eye opener

    1. Oh wow, I’ve not heard of the Golden Ratio nor Golden Spiral. Just read them up on the Internet. Quite interesting and definitely an eye opener. Thanks for the introduction!

  2. Your interpretation of the rules of thirds is basic and works to improve your composition. Getting technical that the focus of the subject should be mon the intersection of to lines of thirds or even place three elements in each third can be an evolution of your interpretation when taking the picture. Compositional rules can be broken however as you said when the subject is strong enough.

    Nice pictures,

    1. Thanks and glad that you like this shot. It was taken with a rangefinder with me leaning, just slightly, over the edge of the Ponte Luis I (a bridge in Porto). Was pleased that it turned out wel

  3. What do I think? I think they should have called it the “guideline of thirds,” instead of the “rule.” 🙂 Yes, it can help your composition to divide your frame into thirds and place the elements of interest accordingly. But as you say: Rules are meant to be broken! Abandoning the rule of thirds can sometimes make an image even more surprising or arresting, precisely because it’s flaunting the rules. Speaking of arresting … I love your second image, and *adore* how you framed the windmill in your last shot. Well done!

    1. Thanks Heather! Regarding photo #2: It was fun making pictures of the view from an apartment that we rented. It was a simple scene with clean lines and covered in a soft warm glow from sunrise.

    1. Thanks for sharing these interesting articles. I didn’t know about the triangle rule, but it makes sense in creating balance and focal points in a photo. Agree that flipping an image can make a significant difference on how the photo may be perceived (as long as there are no words in the photo!)

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