PhotoCompositionSquaresThe Rule of Thirds is one of my favorite photography “rules” because it offers such a fun compositional challenge. In my presentation in June 2012, I said that a good photograph should inspire emotion and/or show a story. Powerful photography relies on strong composition to accomplish this end. So what again is composition? Composition is the way in which a photograph presents its main subject (its most important part).

What makes the Rule of Thirds different from many of the other photography rules that I have previously discussed is its unique use of Spatial Relations to present its main subject. In photography, spatial relations refers to where the subject is located in space in relation to other objects. If this seems a little complicated, don’t worry. I’ll unravel the mysteries as we go.

Let’s Get Started

Imagine a tic-tac-toe board. Picture the two vertical (up and down) lines cutting it into three columns and the two horizontal (sideways) lines cutting it into three rows.

I nickname the Rule of Thirds the Tic-tac-toe rule because this rule requires the photographer to divide a photo into nine sections like the sections of a tic-tac-toe board. The photo’s subject is then aligned at an intersection (axis point) between two of the invisible tic-tac-toe lines or it can be aligned in a section or one entire third of the photo.

Let’s Break It Down

The subject can be aligned on an axis point of the photo:

1) At the upper left axis such as the pink bloom in the photo:
“Blooming Through”

2) At the lower left axis such as the butterfly in the photo:
“Butterfly Geometry”

3) At the upper right axis such as the hot air balloon in the photo:
“In Wonder”

4) At the lower right axis such as the red circle in the photo:
“Nylon Sun Rays”

The subject can be contained in a single section of the photo:

1) At the upper left section of the photo.

2) At the middle left section such as the train car in the photo:
“Simmon’s Vision”

3) At the lower left section such as the butterfly in the photo:
“Butterfly Geometry”

4) At the upper middle section such as the lady bug in the photo:
“Little Lady”

5) At the middle middle section (the center) such as the Thistle in the photo:
“Thorn Star”
(Please see my previous post on centering/bull’s-eye photography for more information on this specific technique.)

6) At the lower middle section such as the bird in the photo:
“Sunrise Wader”

7) At the upper right section of the photo.

8) At the middle right section such as the smallest diamond in the photo:
“Industrial Diamonds”

9) At the lower right section such as the tree in the photo:
“Heavenly Highlights, No. 1”

The photo’s subject can be aligned in an entire third of the photo:

1) In the left third of the photo such as the fence post in the photo:
“Barbs, Spines and Petals”

2) In the middle third of the photo such as the cluster of flowers in the photo:

3) In the right third of the photo such as the yucca seed hull in the photo:
“Sand Hull”

4) In the upper third of the photo.

5) In the middle third of the photo such as the flower in the photo:
“Two Tone Susan”

6) In the lower third of the photo such as the water ripple in the photo:
“Blue Undulations”

Photographer’s Note

In looking over these photo examples, you probably have noticed that not every subject is exactly centered on its respective axis. This is my personal style coming through. Some people are very picky when it comes to positioning their photo subjects. My philosophy is that if some main part of the subject touches the axis or is within the bounds of a section or one third of the photo, then that is all that is needed to follow the Rule of Thirds principle. Feel free to experiment with this and decide your personal comfort level when placing subjects in a Rule of Thirds photo.

One other thing I should mention is that sometimes subjects are too large to fit in one section even a third of the photo such as the balloon in the photo “Two of a Kind” This is perfectly fine! It is your job as an artist to adapt your shooting style to each subject so that you can always shoot it in the best possible way. So, as I have stressed before, use this photography rule as more of a guideline and have some fun bending it.


Shoot at least 20 images with Rule of Thirds subjects and try to shoot one photo for each position described above. This photography “rule” works best with a single subject or a set of closely clustered subjects. The Rule of Thirds is also the go-to principle for shooting landscape photography. Some good items to shoot for axis and section shooting include: flowers, insects, and small objects. Try shooting mountains, skylines or other large landscape/cityscape subjects for when you want to take up a third or two thirds of the photo. For landscapes, please keep in mind: one third sky/background, one third horizon/middle ground, and one third foreground (refer back to my June 12, 2012 post for a reminder about fore, middle, and backgrounds). Don’t worry, I will post a more thorough lesson on landscape shots soon.

Until we meet again, I wish all of you brilliant flashes of perspective!

[ O*] Alycia