Rule of Thirds Explained for Beginner Photographers

Michael • updated July 4, 2022 • 5 min read

Rule of Thirds Explained for Beginner Photographers

One of the most well-known rules of thumb for image composition in photography is the rule of thirds. It aids in making your image more interesting and exciting.

Draw two horizontal and two vertical lines in your mind to divide your image into nine equal parts. The rule of thirds gets its name from the fact that the lines are now each in a third of your image.


 

What is the Rule of Thirds?

What appears to be a daunting and complicated concept at first is actually quite simple: the rule of thirds is nothing more than the division of proportions.

Originally derived from geometry, this approach describes the ideal aspect ratios of a mathematical body, such as the edge lengths of a quadrilateral.

portrait woman, rule if thirds
Portrait woman, Rule if Thirds

Geometric figures must have their sides in certain proportions to each other in order to appear harmonious to the viewer; otherwise, they create an unnatural impression. As a result, the rule of thirds is especially important in architecture, art, and, of course, photography.

This rule, especially as a beginner photographer, can help you develop a better sense of image division. You will gradually learn how to correctly position important subjects in the overall picture and how depth of field affects effective focusing.

Flowers, Rule of Thirds
Flowers, Rule of Thirds, @nicberlin

How to use the rule of thirds?

For this rule, you simply divide the photo into nine equal parts and position the main subject on one of the four possible intersection points. It may also be aligned along continuous lines.

The rule of thirds is based on the golden ratio and is easier to apply, making it ideal for beginners: You divide the image into three equal-sized horizontal and vertical sections.

At four points, the horizontal and vertical lines intersect. You will achieve a harmonious image division if you now place an important motif for the image on one of these four intersections.

This method is also appropriate for portraits. The same rules apply to traditional images. For a portrait, however, it is best to focus on the eyes, preferably the eye closest to the camera.

Bride portrait, Rule of Thirds
Bride portrait, Rule of Thirds

More interesting pictures with rule of thirds

People frequently photograph subjects in the exact center of the frame. This is usually done unconsciously in order to ensure that everything is visible in the photo.

Objects in the center, on the other hand, are often unoriginal and are labeled as boring, despite the fact that the shot is technically flawless.

This photographic rule is the solution. It’s a simple alternative to the golden ratio that can be used to make photo framing more exciting and interesting.

Landscape with Tree, Rule of Thirds
Landscape with Tree, Rule of Thirds

Display the grid on your camera

If imagining a pattern and determining the correct camera position using the above diagrams seems too abstract, you can have a grid displayed on your camera. It should be noted, however, that this pattern is not directly related to the rule of thirds.

The so-called “grid lines” have various variations and divide the image into several parts, sometimes into thirds, sometimes into quarters – depending on the manufacturer.

Nonetheless, they assist photographers, particularly beginners, in aligning pictures straight and learning to distinguish important subjects from unimportant ones.

So you can align key image elements to thirds or fourths, clearly set them on crossed lines, and get a better sense of how to hold your camera and align your lens zoom to capture what you want.

Landscape photo, horizon lower third
Landscape photo, horizon lower third, @heycrisso

Positioning the horizon line

The rule of thirds is very suitable for designing with horizons, lines and areas: Place the horizon of a sunset on the lower horizontal line, and the sky with any clouds will be emphasized as a result (2/3 sky). Place the horizon on the upper third line, giving more attention to the landscape (1/3 sky).

Try other composition lines as well: For example, place the horizon very low for once, or deliberately deviate from the thirds division:

Is the foreground interesting enough to give it more space?
Can the effect of the sky and clouds be enhanced by giving them more space?
How does moving the horizon line affect the picture and the other picture elements?

Landscape photo, horizon upper third
Landscape photo, horizon upper third, @naii

Optimally align surfaces and shapes

Place the edge of a surface or shape on one of the horizontal or vertical rules of thirds lines when working with surfaces or shapes. This results in a balanced distribution of the image components.

Experiment with positions and break the rules.

Take a larger picture if you are unsure of the exact position of the subject when taking the photo. When you get home, you can use Photoshop to crop more precisely by applying the thirds mask to your image. Alternatively, take a few photos with different subject positions and then select the best effect on your PC at home.

With digital cameras, you can usually turn on a thirds grid or golden section lines. This allows you to select the exact subject position or the best image detail on the spot while also training your eye.

In Lightroom, you can find various overlay tools in the Tools – Clipping Overlay – Thirds menu

Regardless of the rules, it’s also entertaining to deliberately break them and provoke your eye. Have the guts to do it! After all, digital photos are no longer expensive, and you can simply delete unsuccessful shots.

How to activate the grid lines at your camera

Show grid lines on Nikon

On Nikon SLR cameras, the grids are always hidden in the same place. So it doesn’t matter which camera model you own, you will always find the function via the following path:

› Turn on your camera and press the menu button.

› Navigate via the arrows to Capture.

› Press the right arrow in your navigation pad to switch to the fine submenu at Capture.

› Now click through to Record and View and select this menu by pressing the Play button.

› Now you will be presented with several options. Here you will find the option to display grid lines. Switch to On here.

Depending on the camera you have the possibility to choose between several grids. However, this option is different for each model. 

Framing grid, viewfinder photography, Nikon D5300.

Show grid lines on Canon

Unlike Nikon, Canon does not offer the option to display grid lines in the viewfinder. However, you can use this method in Live View. To do so, proceed as follows:

›Switch your Canon camera to Live View. This means that your image is captured via the display and not via the viewfinder, similar to a compact digital camera. To do this, simply press the › Live button on the housing. This is marked by a small camera and a red dot.

The camera now automatically splits the image and divides your display into even thirds using fine lines.

Displaying the grid in the Viewfinder, EOS 6D Mark II.

Show grid lines on Sony

Sony cameras allow the insertion of grids in several formats: 3×3, 6×4 and 4×4. In this way, the camera manufacturer tries to make it easier for beginners to get started with photography:

› Navigate to Menu. On newer models, this is often also displayed via a small gear.

› Go to Grid line.

›Now make the desired setting. Try out a little here which grid helps you best and best combats your problems with image composition.

Grid lines Sony A7R III.

 

 

Conclusion

The golden ratio assists us in making our images harmonious and appealing. This makes sense, especially if you’re shooting a similarly harmonious motif. You can, however, also consciously break with the rule.

The only thing that matters is that you are aware of how you are photographing.

We can use faded-in lines in the camera or later in the image editing program to help us here. However, at some point, you will have internalized the golden ratio to the point where you will no longer require the guidelines.

Don’t forget to share this article!

By Furoore team member Michael
Furoore Team is here to assist you in capturing the most significant moments in your life. To create exciting photographs, discover photography guides, find unique photo ideas, and limitless image inspiration.

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