Basic Design Principle: Rule of Thirds
June 14, 2008
The rule of thirds is a basic principle in photography and graphic design. Use the rule of thirds to compose a photograph or place important objects on a canvas. Imagine a grid laid out on top of your image, dividing your photo in thirds horizontally and vertically. Position important objects at the intersections of the lines.
Framing or cropping your photos to conform to the rule of thirds can enliven your images. The following examples show the results of judicious cropping.
Avoid Centering the Subject
Do not center the subject in the frame. Instead position the subject in the top third or lower third section of the frame, or the left or right third section of the frame. Also, remove extra space when cropping and try to fill a third of the frame with your subject. The family of geese now straddles the lower third of the frame.
Scan the Horizon
If your photo has a horizon line, do not center the horizon line in the photo. Place it on either the top horizontal line or the bottom horizontal line. Note also that the Statue of Liberty now is aligned with the left vertical line.
Trim Recognizable Objects
Remove any unneeded space from the photo and do not be afraid to show only a portion of a recognizable object. The right side of the flower has been trimmed to allow a better placement of the flower and butterfly in this photo.
Watch the Eyes
In close ups, try to line up the eyes of your subject to the top third line intersections. My cat, Abby, posed for this photo.
Rule of Thirds Grid in Photoshop Elements
There are two ways you can overlay a rule of thirds grid on your photos in Photoshop Elements:
- Use a custom shape.
- Set the grid preferences.
Photoshop Elements contains a custom shape you can use to overlay a rule of thirds grid on your image.
- Select the Custom Shape tool.
- From the Shape drop-down list on the options bar, select the Tiles shapes, then select the rule of thirds grid shape.
- Draw the grid shape on your image.
My preferred method for overlaying a rule of thirds grid is to set the grid preferences and view the resulting grid. To set grid preferences:
- From the Edit menu, select Preferences, then Grid.
In the Preferences dialogue, set the Grid Line to 33.33% and the Subdivisions to 1.
- Click OK.
- From the View menu, select Grid.
Updated on August 4, 2011