rule of thirds 740x416 - Understanding Composition: What is the Rule of Thirds and How to Use it?

Understanding Composition: What is the Rule of Thirds and How to Use it?

The rule of thirds is one of the most useful ways of composing a photograph. It’s an important concept to learn because you can apply it to many types of photography. And the final images look more engaging.

If you see photography as a form of art, then don’t blindly use this composition technique. It is more of a rule of thumb than a rule set in stone. The rule of thirds is a great starting point for any composition.

What is the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds is to divide an image up by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, as shown below. The four intersecting lines cut the frame into nine rectangles. Each horizontal line and vertical line meet at a point of intersection. You then place the important elements within a given frame along those lines or at the intersections.

rule of thirds

For example, we want to use the rule of thirds to compose a landscape image and the horizon is a key element. We should place the horizon at either one-third of the frame from the bottom, or one third from the top.

Why is the rule of thirds so popular?

The rule of thirds is a derivative of the well-known golden ratio (1:1.619). The golden ratio is found in nature and arts. People find this ratio of objects proportion natural and pleasing. But as you can see, the ratio of 1:1.619 isn’t very easy to visualise when composing a photograph. Here comes the rule of thirds. It is a simplified approach and easy to use in the field. The rule of thirds has the aesthetics of the golden ratio. Placing a subject on the lines or at the points looks more natural and pleasing to the eye than in the centre of the frame. You can make creative use of the empty areas around your subject when using this composition.

How to turn on the camera grid on your iPhone

The iPhone has the option to turn on this grid. So you don’t have to estimate where the lines fall while taking your photo. Turning on the grid helps you get your positioning more accurate. If you are not sure about your ability to compose subjects without these lines and points, it’s better to leave the grid turned on.

  1. Go to the Settings app from your Home screen.
  2. Scroll down and tap on Camera.
  3. Tap on the switch next to Grid to turn it on.
How to enable camera grid on iPhone 1 - Understanding Composition: What is the Rule of Thirds and How to Use it?
How to enable camera grid on iPhone 2 - Understanding Composition: What is the Rule of Thirds and How to Use it?

Now you will see the grid overlay when you use the native camera app. Don’t worry, the overlay won’t be recorded in any of your shots.

How to enable camera grid on iPhone 3 e1515237800918 - Understanding Composition: What is the Rule of Thirds and How to Use it?

How to use the rule of thirds

You can use the rule of thirds as the default choice of composition, but treat it only as a guideline. When framing a photo, you want to find the elements that you think are the most important. Then you try to position them at or near the lines and intersections of the grid. The elements don’t have to be perfectly lined up as long as they’re close.

You may need to move around to get the best composition. Using the rule of thirds forces you to think more about the shot. It is a good habit to get into whether you should use the rule of thirds or not.

Landscape photography

As mentioned before, placing the horizon in the dead centre will only make the resulting image look boring. In landscape photography, the rule of thirds will instantly improve your results. The more interesting elements, such as the sky or earth, should make up two-thirds of your photo.

Rule of thirds landscape photography 3 - Understanding Composition: What is the Rule of Thirds and How to Use it?
Horizon in the middle
Rule of thirds landscape photography 4 - Understanding Composition: What is the Rule of Thirds and How to Use it?
Horizon one-third from the bottom

Cropping photos

You can improve existing photos to be line with the rule of thirds by cropping them. Cropping a photo allows you to reposition the important element in the frame. You can move it into a more pleasing position.

Rule of thirds landscape photography 1 1 - Understanding Composition: What is the Rule of Thirds and How to Use it?
Ducklings in the middle before cropping.
Rule of thirds landscape photography 2 1 - Understanding Composition: What is the Rule of Thirds and How to Use it?
Ducklings near the left vertical line after cropping.

You can simply use the native editing functions when viewing photos in your camera roll. Or you can download editing apps like Snapseed. The cropping function in most editing apps displays a rule of thirds overlay. It places a rule of thirds grid on top of your photo as you crop it.

How to crop a photo on iPhone

  1. Go to the Photos app from you Home screen.
  2. Click open a photo you want to edit.
  3. Tap on Edit (at the top right corner).
  4. Tap on the crop icon in the bottom navigation.
  5. Select the aspect ratio icon if you want to crop the photo into a particular ratio  (optional).
  6. Drag the cropping tool’s border to change the frame size, and drag the photo to reposition the subject within the frame.
  7. Pinch two fingers to zoom the subject inside the frame.
  8. Tap on Done at the bottom right corner when you finish cropping the photo.
How to crop an image on iPhone 1 - Understanding Composition: What is the Rule of Thirds and How to Use it?

How to crop an image on iPhone

How to crop an image on iPhone
How to crop an image on iPhone

Rules are there to be broken

The rule of thirds is a great beginning for understanding composition in photography. But it doesn’t apply in every situation. Sometimes you want to break the rule to shoot an even more eye-catching photo. There are no strict rules about when to use what composition technique. Experiment and test out different compositions even if they go against any “rules” you’ve learned.

However, the rule of thirds is certainly worth learning. Learn to use the rule of thirds effectively before you try to break it. In that way, you can be sure you’re doing so to get a better composition. Knowing how to use the rule of thirds is a step in the right direction of iPhone photography. Knowing when to use it is a big leap.

Happy shooting!

Add comment