June 27, 2017

Rule of Thirds Breaker

I admit it, I’m not big on following the “rules” in photography. I shoot in continuous mode, and I ignore most framing rules like the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds is a practice designed to help break the center-centric habit most beginner photographers have. Rather than place the subject in the dead center of the image, placing them off center (along the thirds grid line) usually creates a more dynamic image. Most rule of thirds advocates suggest having at least two focal points in the four grid line cross sections.

I support the principle, but like any rule it can be over done. Equally important to the placement of the subject is the overall background, and the overall look and feel of the image. In my opinion, it’s not worth adhering to any placement rule if it leaves a distracting background element, or forces you to crop out part of the scene that makes the image compelling.

Here’s an example from one of my favorite photos of Alexis. Original on top, with grid lines below.


The corner of her mouth touches a grid lines, but the focal points (the eyes) do not. In fact, the close eye is dead center in the image. Now watch what happens when I recrop so the back eye and lips touch the grid line cross section.

The framing of the face isn’t bad. Truth be told I probably should have gotten closer, and a tighter crop achieves the same effect. The problem is that darn bow. It’s cut off. It’s both distracting and detracting from the original image. The cropping gets substantially worse if I try and force the close, dominant eye to a cross section.

Here’s another example using one of my favorite photos of Nicole.

This one happens to correspond with the rule of thirds in that the tip of her middle finger touches the cross section of the grid lines. The other focal points, do not. The best recropping I was able to do puts both eyes in opposite cross sections and yields the following.

You lose the hunched over shoulder. Recropping to other focal points losses part of the hand. Both lessen the impact of the photo.

All this is to say while the rule itself isn’t inherently bad, not all photos work with the rule of thirds. Rules in photography, like rules in any art form, should be used as training tools. It’s useful to experiment with them, but strict adherence to the rule will be limiting and could cause you to miss the ideal shot.

At least that’s this photographer’s opinion.

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