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Photography Lesson 3 – The Rule of Thirds

This free photography lesson will improve your photographs almost instantly!

Have you ever heard, “You have a good eye”? Maybe you have heard, “That picture is composed so well.” And, like most of us at some point in our photography journey, you think, “What the heck are they talking about?” Today’s lesson will discuss the Rule of Thirds and how it applies to the composition, or layout, of a photograph.

This concept is really simple to understand. Two important elements of good composition is finding the right subject, and then placing it in the proper spot on the photograph. The Rule of Thirds helps us do that. The main idea when using the rule, which is really a guideline, is to place the subject off center away from the middle of the frame. Doing this usually brings character and action to the photograph making them much more interesting.

Horizontal Rule of Thirds

Vertical Rule of Thirds

Here’s how it works. You have to look through your viewfinder and mentally (some cameras now have guides to help you) divide the frame in to nine parts. Look at the example on the left.

Notice that there are two horizontal and two vertical lines that trisect the image creating four crosshairs for you to place your subject. Place your subject where the lines intersect instead of in the middle of the frame.

For a vertical picture, look at the example on the right.

Here are some general guidelines to subject placement.

  • When shooting landscapes, place the horizon on either the top or bottom line of the horizontal frame indicated above.
  • Place the eyes of animals and people along the top lines or either frame shown above.
  • Always give movement a place to go. For example, if you take a photo of some one running from left to right, place the subject (the runner) on one of the left crosshairs.

Let’s look at some examples.

Center Weighted Bird

Rule of Thirds Used






The photograph on the left is shot the way many beginner photographers shoot a subject. The subject is centered and it appears that it is nearly looking off the picture.

The photograph on the right is applying the rule of thirds. The subject is placed on the left vertical line. The birds’ eyes are centered on the top horizontal line. Notice now, it does not appear the bird is looking off the picture like the center weighted one. This is a much more pleasing photograph. What do you think?









More Examples

Las Vegas, Nevada






I took this picture while traveling in Las Vegas, Nevada. By the way, Las Vegas numerous photography opportunities. I am kind of a country boy so I look for nature to explore and I found Red Rock Canyon about 25 minutes north of Las Vegas. The photo was taken at the entrance of the park. I simply placed the main subject on the right vertical line. This gave the photograph a dramatic look.









Life Guard Station






This photograph was taken in Pensacola, Florida. Beaches always have the potential to make beautiful photographs. Look at the rule of third components used to compose this picture. First, the main subject (the lifeguard station) is placed on the left vertical line. The secondary subject (the umbrella) was placed on the right vertical line. And finally, the horizon was placed on the top horizontal line. All of these considerations made a very dramatic picture that is very pleasing to the eye.





As you can easily see, learning this free photography lesson, The Rule of Thirds, can quickly improve your photography skills.

Homework Assignment

  • Take several pictures using the left vertical line of each template above.
  • Take several pictures using the right vertical line of each template above.
  • Take several pictures using the top horizontal line of each template above.
  • Take several pictures using the bottom horizontal line of each template above.
  • Compare each photo and post how you think this lesson helped you in the comments

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