The First Rule.

Know it.

Frozen Climb

One of the first “Rules” of photography that most people learn when first starting out is the Rule Of Thirds. 

When composing a photograph, visualize a grid across the scene, dividing it into thirds vertically and horizontally. Just like in a game of tic-tac-toe. For a more dynamic composition you should place your main subject at one of the intersections of these imaginary lines or along one of the lines themselves.

You should avoid placing your subject dead center in the frame. In the case of landscape photos you should also avoid placing the horizon through the center of the frame, placing it instead on or near one of the imaginary horizontal lines either 1/3 up from the bottom or 1/3 down from the top.

Pretty simple, right?

Then break it.

Cherry Pond Blue Hour Reflections

Photography rules were made to be broken.

In this case, due to the Symmetry of the reflection, placing the horizon line perfectly centered in the frame works quite well.

What other instances can you think of where you can break the Rule Of Thirds and still make a good photograph? What about using symmetry in your compositions?

30 thoughts on “Thirds And Symmetry

  1. That ice climber photograph is stunning! It’s funny I ran across it now – only a few hours ago I was musing about adding an iceclimber picture to one of my posts, but thought I’d just let it go since he was as tiny as an ant 😀 I had seen one a few weeks ago in the mountains for the first time and was fascinated! Thanks for sharing ❤

    1. The nice thing about living here in New Hampshire is that there are several places where I’m able to get nice and close to the climbers. Makes photographing them much easier.

    1. Thank you very much, and no way. I’d like to think I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to where I’ll go to make a photo, but there’s something about ice climbing I’m not too sure about. Part of me wants to try it, as if I need another expensive hobby, and part of me will forever be freaked out by the possibility that the ice I”m climbing could simply decide that the day I’m on it is the day it’s going to fall.

  2. There are no rules. There are only someone else’s ideas of potential guidelines. Every artist must approach each new opportunity with individual vision and let it flow from within. There are no rules.

  3. Good example. I like to break it when there is symmetry in the subject, like a modern building. I also like to put people in the middle of the frame since this is then natural way we look at each other, not off to the side.

  4. Hi Jeff, I also have been wondering about when we break these well-known rules. I can think of a mandala as something I’d like to have centered, rather than off-center. And flowers are often mandala like when you shoot right into them. But most often the rule of 3rds applies – it just doesn’t feel right when I try it differently, really an intuitive thing.

    1. Thanks Brandon. The rule of thirds is a great rule, you really can’t go wrong when using it to compose a photo. But rules were made to be broken, and when breaking this one works it can indeed be striking.

    1. That was nothing. He was only about 10-15 ft above me, with maybe a little more than that to go to reach the top. Some of the stuff they climb is absolutely nuts! You’ll never catch me ice climbing. I can’t get the thought out of my head of the entire sheet of ice falling away from the cliff face. With me on it!

Comments and thoughtful critiques are always welcome.

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