Rule of Thirds in Photography: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 What is the Rule of Thirds?
  • 1:10 Images With & Without…
  • 2:04 Other Examples
  • 2:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Want to make those pictures from a smartphone look better even without extra filters? Then learn more about the rule of thirds, a guideline that has been helping artists and photographers for more than 200 years.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

One of the fundamentals of painting and photography, the Rule of Thirds is a technique designed to help artists and photographers build drama and interest in a piece. The rule states that a piece should be divided into nine squares of equal size, with two horizontal lines intersecting two vertical lines. Elements of the composition should take care to not cross the lines, and points of interest in the work should land near where two lines intersect, known as a crash point.

Lines explaining the Rule of Thirds
In action

The rule was first written down more than 200 years ago and has remained a useful piece of advice for aspiring photographers and artists ever since. Of course, this predated the invention of photography by quite some time but the rule had become established by that point.

Of course, like all guidelines in art, the Rule of Thirds is merely a suggestion. Photographers should not feel the need to adhere constantly to respecting the rule, as ultimately it does not always produce the best results. However, for those still gaining experience, it does provide a useful strategy in learning how to best frame shots.

Let's take a look at some examples of the Rule of Thirds in action.

Examples of the Rule of Thirds in Action

Here are two copies of the same image. In the first, the photograph in question was cropped without regard for the Rule of Thirds. While it is supposed to showcase a series of townhouses in Bath, England, the focus is really more on the grass. Indeed, the lawn dominates almost half the picture, which combined with the sky above, means that the townhouses make up only a small fraction of the total image.

Photograph without respect to the Rule of Thirds
No Thirds

In the second image, the same photograph was cropped with the Rule of Thirds in mind. While some of the townhouses to the right of the image were sacrificed in the effort, the whole imagine is much more composed. The eye is drawn to elements of the house that despite being visible in the first imag,e are now of much more interest. Particular among these is the change in color of the façade of each house. Indeed, some of these changes are framed by the vertical lines.

Above image cropped with respect to Rule of Thirds
With Thirds

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