DSLR Photography 101: The Rule of Thirds

Megan O'Neill


Last week we began diving into composition as part of our DSLR Photography 101 series, starting with cropping and framing. Today, we’re taking a look at the rule of thirds — a helpful little trick you can use when setting up your shots.

How does the rule of thirds work? Think of lines superimposed over your photo to divide it into thirds on both the horizontal and vertical axes — like a tic tac toe board — resulting in three columns and three rows, or nine equal sections (see the image below).

Rule of Thirds grid

When many people pick up a camera, their inclination is to frame their photo so the subject is dead center, smack in the middle of the image. We’ll let you in on a little secret — this isn’t always the most eye-pleasing way to frame your shot (though in some cases a centered subject may look best). Rather, using the rule of thirds as a guideline and lining your up your subject and other elements important to the photograph along the lines and intersections will help you take shots that look great.

For instance, you’ll see that the subject of this portrait is lined up along the left vertical line of the grid. Additionally, as eyes are often the most important part of an image, connecting the viewer to the subject, our consumer customer owner Beth placed the eyes near the intersection of the lines when she took this photo.

Rule of Thirds portrait

In this image, Beth lined the horizon up along the lower horizontal line of the grid. If the horizon line was placed in the center it would make for a less attractive image, and make the photo appear as if it was split in two. You’ll also notice that the Eiffel tower is placed right along the vertical line on the right side of the grid.

Rule of Thirds landscape

You may be using the rule of thirds in your own photography already, without even noticing. If not, try imagining the tic tac toe grid superimposed the next time you’re shooting — many DSLR cameras even have a setting that places an actual grid within the camera viewfinder. We’d love to see the photos you take. Feel free to share them in the comments below.

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