2. The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is sometimes referred to as the golden ratio of design or photography, and again, that’s not too correct. The golden ratio is a mathematical function used in art and architecture, describing the ideal relation of distance between objects to make it pleasing for the eye. The rule of thirds though is more valuable in design, thus a rule of composition.

The rule of thirds states that by dividing an artwork with evenly spaced horizontal and vertical lines – two of each, creating 9 parts -, the intersections of these lines are to be sought after as the most preferred focal points of an artwork or photograph. This is because at these points, the eye has the best perception of the main object in relation to the surrounding objects. By applying the rule of thirds to your artwork, you can stress the focal point and turn a rather dull image into something more interesting.

Let’s take a look at this example. This is a photo of a kid at the beach. It’s shot without any rule or anything of that sort in mind:

Now, let’s see if we can make this photograph more interesting. First, we will apply two horizontal and two vertical lines, dividing the photo into nine equal parts.

Now, let’s play around a bit. What is the focal point of the photo? Where do we want the eye to jump to? I would say it’s the boys head.

So we scale the grid in order to put one of the four intersections right onto our intended focal point, like this:

Now, we just crop the image according to the new borders – and voilà, this is how our photo looks now:

Do you notice the difference? Applying the rule of thirds created a much more interesting image. We can find this rule in practice in advertising, as well. Here are a few examples – this is an ad for the Hard Rock Cafe:

Guess where the intersections of our lines are:

That takes the cake! Another ad for the American Newspaper Association:

As you see, the focal point of the image doesn’t have to be exactly at the intersection of two lines. It works just as well if it’s just in close proximity. Just like these ads for Axe:

Here, too, the most interesting spots are created by using the rule of thirds – but also our next rule of composition, which is: