Rule of Thirds Explained With Examples

rule of thirds tui bird new zealand

Before we dive into the details of the rule of thirds, let’s talk about why it’s crucial to properly compose your photographs. 

Learning the composition rules of photography is an important component of comprehending the art of photography. It’s a daunting task, but it’s necessary to learn if you want to become a great photographer. The rule of thirds is a great place to start!

From a technical viewpoint, mastering the fundamental camera settings is essential.

However, this will only allow you to determine your exposure, sharpness, depth of field, and overall image quality.

Learning how to use your camera’s manual settings will have little impact on the overall composition of your final photos.

This is when you need to invest some time to learn the photography composition rules.

Learning how to compose correctly is a photographer’s most useful skill. It is vital for conveying the story they wish to tell in their images. It is difficult to create striking photographs that stand out among the plethora of photographers worldwide.

That is why it is important to use a good composition strategy.

One of the most well-known photography rules of composition is the photography thirds rule. 

When applied correctly, the rule of thirds rule can assist you in creating an aesthetically pleasing photo. This guide will teach you the fundamentals of the photography thirds rule. You will learn how to apply it to your images to make them more attractive.

At a glance, these are the topics that the article will cover, click a link to skip ahead.

Ready to learn the photography thirds rule? Let’s get to it. 

What is the photography thirds rule?

The photography thirds concept claims that the points of interest in a photo are most appealing when arranged along lines of the rule of thirds grid. These lines split the picture into thirds, both horizontally and vertically.

The simplest way to see this while shooting is to divide the image into 9 equal sections using a 3 x 3 grid.

You can usually enable a rule of thirds grid on your viewfinder to help you compose your photos. This is available on most current modern digital cameras. Some of the best phone cameras have this option too.

When you are starting out learning the photography thirds rule, it’s far easier to break up an image using a visual grid in your viewfinder or on your phone than it is to pay attention to where your subject is in the frame.

However, once you have got to grips with this technique, you’ll soon find it easy to compose your photos using the photography thirds rule without a visual grid. 

Essentially, the points of interest in your shot should be placed along the lines of your visual grid if you follow the photography thirds rule. 

When people look at images, their gaze is naturally drawn to one or more places of interest, rather than the middle of the frame. Therefore, you should put your subject anywhere in the frame except immediately in the middle. 

If you follow this rule and use the guidelines for the rule of thirds to put subjects in your frame, the composition in your photos will mirror how people naturally interpret a photo.

Why is the rule of thirds useful?

Although it is known as the rule of thirds, it is not a compulsory rule. The rule of thirds is simply a guideline to help you better compose your images. 

The rule of thirds is especially useful if you’re just beginning your photography journey. Having photography rules of composition guidelines to follow, allows you to focus on experimenting with your manual settings. 

This will help you to grasp how the manual settings on your camera affect your final image quicker. Allowing you to master your photography skills in no time.

4 reasons to consider using the photography thirds rule
  1. The rule of thirds is simple to follow and produces aesthetically appealing results.
  2. For brand and product photography, it helps you to organically guide your audience to the image’s power point – the location where the viewer’s attention will naturally go first.
  3. It gives you as the photographer the opportunity to convey a story. The rule of thirds captures the viewer’s attention. Firstly, by drawing the audience’s gaze to the focal point in one third of the image; once there, their gaze will roam across the remainder of the image. Whereas, if the subject is centered, the eye is drawn to it but has nowhere else to go.
  4. The photography thirds rule is excellent for creating harmony in a picture, particularly when there is a lot of negative space. The main elements take up one-third of the scene, while the negative space fills the other two-thirds.

When to use the rule of thirds (with examples)

The rule of thirds can be applied to every genre of photography. So, whether you’re a pet photographer or a street photographer, mastering photography composition rules like the rule of thirds is essential.

Here are a few ideas and rule of thirds examples. These should hopefully inspire you to start incorporating the photography thirds rule into your pictures.


photography composition example

Focusing on the horizon in your photographs is an excellent place to start when learning the photography thirds rule. Using the rule of thirds to position the horizon assists you to make your image more visually appealing to the viewer. 

Ideally, the horizon should not be placed in the centre of the shot. If it’s in the middle, it divides the image in half, making it unbalanced. Instead, position the horizon in the upper or lower third of the frame.

A good practice to follow is If the sky is more striking, fill the upper two thirds of the image with it. Whereas, if the foreground is more fascinating, fill the bottom two thirds of the shot with it.

photography rules of composition seascape

City Skylines

photography thirds rule city skyline example

When photographing city skylines following the rule of thirds positioning the iconic landmarks or city structures in the right or left third of the frame can make the photo more appealing. 

Additionally, when using the rule of thirds to photograph a city skyline with water in your foreground you could fill the bottom third of the photo with the water. 

These are just a few instances of how to use the rule of thirds while shooting cities, but there are always additional examples that you could use. 

photography rules of composition in the city


composition pet photo

It is also simple to apply the rule of thirds to subjects such as humans or pets. Professional portrait photographers usually set the eyeline along the top vertical line in a rule of thirds grid. This is usually more appealing rather than having the face in the centre or filling the frame.

The eyes, in a portrait of a human or pet, are the first thing the viewer’s attention is directed to. Therefore, placing them off centre using the rule of thirds grid will normally result in the best composition.


photography thirds rule product photographer

When using the rule of thirds for product photography, place the most significant aspects of the product along the lines of the grid. Alternatively, place the product at the intersection points where the lines cross over each other.

Negative space

rule of thirds photography with tui bird in new zealand

Negative space is sometimes used to make a photograph look more balanced.

As a general guideline, employ the rule of thirds by using twice as much negative space as your subject takes up. Therefore, two thirds of your image will be negative space and one third will be your subject.

This method of using the rule of thirds is particularly useful for photographing close-ups, good examples include flowers, details, birds or architecture.

Active space 

rule of thirds examples using surfer

For photos featuring a moving subject, such as in sports photography, putting the subject on one of the outside vertical grid lines will allow a space in front of your subject to move into.

This area where the subject may move is known as active space, and it helps to tell a story in a photograph.


photography rules of composition at beach

Another approach to use the rule of thirds is if you have an abstract scene with patterns, lines, or textures.

Lines within patterns or textures should be placed along one of the lines in the rule of thirds grid. This helps to divide the composition into sections. This method of using the rule of thirds is one of the easiest examples to construct a cohesive composition using abstract shapes.

Bonus tip for working with the rule of thirds

Sometimes, when you are on a shoot or capturing a moving subject, it’s difficult to line up your shot quickly.

Especially when you are beginning to learn photography, and you are also trying to adjust your manual settings.

You’re not always going to have the perfect rule of thirds composition in your photo. 

However, several post-processing editing products, including Photoshop and Lightroom, have a rule of thirds grid. You can use this to place over your photo to evaluate your composition.

If you feel you haven’t quite structured your photo according to the photography thirds rule, use the cropping tool to accurately edit and compose the shot to align with the rule of thirds grid.

Breaking the rule of thirds: should you do it?

Breaking photography rules of composition such as the rule of thirds, means to deliberately disregard the rule. You can achieve this by positioning or arranging subjects without using the rule of thirds grid. 

By deviating from the rule of thirds, photographers can sometimes create compositions that are even more dramatic. It’s all about analysing your environment and figuring out how to create a story with one photograph.

Remember the photography thirds rule is only a guideline. The rule of thirds is not the only technique to structure an image effectively.

Popular alternative photography rules of composition include:

Centering – The goal of a photographer is to capture the viewer’s attention on a subject. When there is a cluttered foreground or backdrop, putting the subject in the middle of the photograph can sometimes help focus the viewer’s attention to it.
Another way to use centering is to place a path or road in the centre of the image, as it can produce a leading line for the viewer’s eyes to move into the image.

The golden ratio – many famous photographers have used the golden ratio. It was often used by Ansel Adams in his landscape photography.
Using the phi grid or the Fibonacci spiral, the golden ratio can be applied to a variety of settings.

The rule of odds – The rule of odds argues that when photographing a group of subjects, using an odd number rather than an even number will result in a more intriguing and visually appealing composition.

These are just a few alternatives to the rule of thirds. There are several other examples of photography composition rules that you could apply to make your photo stand out from the crowd.

Learning one at a time and practicing is the easiest way to get started.

If you want to learn more, consider taking one of the top two online photography courses. These will teach you the foundations of photography, including composition rules.

Final thoughts 

If you’re new to photography, using the rule of thirds will become second nature with time. I hope this guide has helped you to get to grips with the photography thirds rule.

Remember, when capturing your images, you need to pay attention to your subject or the points of interest in your photo.

If you cannot physically enable a visual grid on your device, picture an imaginary 3×3 grid to help you compose better.

This will allow you to frame your subject correctly, ensuring that crucial parts do not fall precisely in the centre of your shot. 

However, while the photography thirds rule is tried and tested, don’t be afraid to break the rule and find your own style of photography!

DISCLOSURE: I may earn a small commission from some of the links above. For the benefit of the doubt, please assume all links might be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

selective focus photography of black canon camera displaying photo of red and black building

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