Rule of Thirds in Photography: An Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Rule of Thirds in Photography

The Rule of Thirds is a basic compositional technique in photography, painting and videography. In this article, we’ll look about this rule and how to use it effectively to take the perfect shot, also how to combine it with other artistic techniques.

Most people who are into photography are well aware that composition is fundamental. Unless a beginner may have a doubt about where to start when studying this art form. And even despite the fact that everyone has heard the principle that it is impossible to place an object right in the center of the frame.

What is Rule of Thirds?

According to this rule, the photograph is mentally divided into a grid with nine equal parts, which are formed by two horizontal and vertical lines. These lines intersect four times, and it is around these points that it is desirable to place objects in the frame. This draws the viewer’s eye to the important subject in the most natural way.

The composition of the frame is understood as the general unity of the image, that is, the ratio of the horizon line, objects, light and color, which is pleasing to the eye and gives the frame structure a convincing sound and integrity. However, the individuality of perception does not always allow us to understand which composition can be called harmonious. The rule of thirds is one of the main techniques for achieving balance in a composition, as well as grabbing the viewer’s attention and directing it to a certain way of reading the frame.

The frame space can be divided into parts: two, three, four or more, depending on the conditional lines that form the boundaries of the composition objects.

Rule of Thirds

The classical divisions in painting, photography and videography are based on this golden rule. This compositional technique involves dividing the image into three parts vertically and horizontally. The visual centers of the composition are considered to be four points of intersection of lines (the so-called “points of power”), where it is recommended to place the main objects. Compliance with the rule of thirds in the visual organization of the composition allows us to solve an important problem: to achieve a harmonious relationship between different parts of the frame (meaningful and free space).

You may also like to read: Rules of Composition: 11 Best Compositional Rules in Photography.

How to Use Rule of Thirds in Portrait and Street Photography?

Now we’ll see how we can use it in portrait and street photography. It is a useful method, especially when starting out with photography, and must be perfectly mastered to further develop your own preferences and style. This quick start guide will get you started, but the important step is to get out and practice as much as possible.

Portrait photography provides a great opportunity to practice applying this rule because, unlike street photography, the photographer has plenty of time to position their subject the way they want to, to get the right composition and get a perfectly balanced shot.

Placing the subject in the center of the photo is not attractive.

Placing the Subject in Center
Placing the Subject in Center

In the photo above, you can see that the subject’s face is not in any of the four intersections, but in the middle – the dead center of the photo. Although, of course, this is how we would see the world around us and any objects if we looked directly, nevertheless, the central position of the object in the frame does not make the photo attractive and can look quite awkward.

Placing Subject As Per Rule of Thirds
Placing Subject According the Rule

Placing your subject along the third frame makes the photo more enjoyable.

If you align the object not in the center, but based on the vertical line on the right, in our case, the photo will be much easier for visual perception. The picture becomes interesting for the audience. This works great for portrait as well as street photography.

Street Photography Example
Street Photography Example

Street photography is an image of people and the environment captured in life, in their natural state, where the photographer must blend in with the background, be invisible and not influence what is happening in the frame with his presence.

There is no setting in street photography, so, of course, you can’t waste a minute when you get the opportunity to take a shot. The photographer may only have a few seconds to take a photo before the subject continues to move or leaves.

However, the principles of the rules are strictly applied. Capturing photos can be achieved by using intersection points as reference points for object placement.

Placing of Subject at Vertical Line

In the photo, the object is placed along a vertical line.

Group Photography

Practice creates excellence. You can use this rule even in group photography.

This rule works especially well during landscape photography and allow you to take great pictures. However, if your shot contains only one object, place it on the left side of the frame. The fact is that viewers have a habit of viewing images from left to right, which is developed by reading.

Landscape Photography

If there are several key subjects in the photo, position the dominant subject at the lower right point. This composition of the frame takes into account the fact that the person best perceives the information received at the beginning and at the end of viewing. Even newscasts are built on this principle, reviewing all the stories at the beginning of the program and leaving the most neutral story for the finale in order to soften the perception of negative news, of which the majority in the report.

Using Rule of Thirds
Also Used in Filming – A Movie Clip from Inception

Likewise in photography; when looking at your photo, the person will best perceive the latest information received. This point is especially important to consider when photographing images with emotional overtones.

You may also like to read: Rhythm in Photography.

Can I Break This Rule?

As with almost any compositional technique, the rule of thirds is not always the only recipe for a successful shot. The persistent opinion that the arrangement of objects along the thirds lines makes the composition pleasing to the eye is true, but not in all cases.

Break The Rule

Perfect symmetry is alien to human balanced perception, because nothing is perfectly symmetrical in the world. Hence the popularity of the 3×3 grid rule, which assumes that the placement of objects in the frame will not be centralized. However, examples of symmetry and deliberately ignoring thirds lines are not rare. In many famous works of painting, photography and cinema, composition is not based on this rule.

Effective composition is a tricky subject because there are so many different details you can use to guide your eye. Great artists such as Da Vinci, Van Gogh and Picasso can teach a real master class in this matter. They certainly didn’t create their masterpieces just by the following this rule.

Horse Painting by L. Da Vinci


The Rule of Thirds is one of the simplest compositional guideline. First of all, it is intended so that you do not make gross mistakes. Good composition is about more than just placing important objects in the image at the intersection points of the 3×3 grid.

The best this method can do is keep you from placing your subject too close to the edge of the frame, or worse, cropping it around the edge. Also, the 3×3 grid rule tells you not to center the object for no reason. Center-positioned shots look flat, mundane, boring and not dynamic. Try to avoid such placement. For newbies, this rule is a convenient method of composing a shot.

Tattoo Work by Reka Nyari
By: Reka Nyari

Hopefully this article has given you an understanding of this photography rule, and that there are many more techniques used to construct a composition than a 3×3 grid. However, this simple method will help prioritize the frame and fill it better, so don’t forget to turn on the grid display in your smartphone camera.