Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules.

Maybe not, particularly as rules, especially artistic rules, are there to be broken, but unfortunately you do have to know them before you can start breaking them.

The Rule of Thirds seems such an obvious “rule”, the subject is aligned so that it’s off-center and thereby the image achieves better balance, and yet it’s surprising how often even the most experienced amateur photographer almost reluctantly uses it, choosing instead to apply their ever increasing knowledge of the technical aspects of the camera instead, as though a perfectly exposed image, a subject in sharp focus with no regard to background or positioning could ever be visually more pleasing than a not so perfect exposure, but one in which the interplay between subject and background with clever use of negative space leads to a far more interesting and well balanced image.

Some examples illustrating the technique

The rule of thirds grid with power-points, areas of heightened importance.

Without rule of thirds composition it feels as though the subject is walking out of the frame.

With rule of thirds composition the subject is able to walk into the frame due to the negative space in front of the subject, called the lead room, resulting in a better balance to the composition.

The same again, the centred subject and therefore lack of lead room results in an imbalanced, almost claustrophobic image.

With rule of thirds composition and adequate lead room the image is more dynamic.

Tips for when on location

  • Switch on the screen guidelines for the viewfinder and/or LCD screen on your camera.
  • Roughly align the subject to one of these lines, leaving negative space in front of the subject to “breathe”.
  • The points of intersection are known as the “power points”.
  • If the subject is moving, or even just looking, the negative space in front of them is called the “lead room”, it’s necessary for the viewer as it leaves space for the subject to move into, thus creating a sense of motion.

© Andrew James Kirkwood – 2017

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