Rule of Thirds

Continuing on with our composition series, we’ll move to today’s installment – Rule of Thirds.

The rule of thirds is quite simple. I covered this before in Episode 5, but since its been a while and for the sake of continuity, we’re going to cover it again in this series.

For the rule of thirds, you need to mentally learn how to subdivide your composition into 3 sections (2 lines) vertically and then again horizontally. Mentally this forms a grid of 6 spaces. The Rule of Thirds states that the 4 points where these lines intersect are points of interest. You want to place subjects on these points of interests to create a sense of balance in your composition. Use of these points create a sense of tension, interest and energy in the composition as opposed to placing the subject dead center. It could also be argued that our perception as humans has become accustomed to this technique having seen it in painting, design and other forms of composition. I would personally argue that it creates more balance than it does tension, but either way it is a formal way of creating order in your composition. Learn it well and you can make your own decisions of when or when not to use it.

The term rule of thirds dates back to 1797 in a book by John Thomas Smith titled Remarks on Rural Scenery. Smith used it as a painting concept of balancing dark and light values.

This concept goes back beyond the origins of photography and most of the classical photographers used this concept a great deal in their work. Photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Arnold Newman used this placement extensively in their work as you can see in the examples here.


  1. says

    Hi Ted,
    I really enjoy your videos. Could you in the future or maybe you already have done it covering the idea of learning different types of photography such as landscape, portraiture, street, etc as a photographer. Is it necessary to know and work in only one? Is it like learning different genres of music, though focusing on only one. In photography, it seems a good idea to be versed in both digital and analog to produce different types of prints as well as to have the different skills. Anyway, if you are able to address this issue, great. If you are too busy, its ok as well.
    Wilton Wong