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Rule of Thirds

April 30, 2012

A wonderful way to improve your photos is to use the rule of thirds.  Basically, the rule of thirds is a guide that divides the image into three columns and three rows.  It is like a tic-tac-toe board placed over top of the image, like this:

Instead of centering all of your images, instead, by using the rule of thirds, you would place whatever you think is most important on one of the intersections of the grid.  In the photo above, it was my son’s face.  Generally for photos of people, you would want an eye (or in between the subject’s eyes) to be at one of the intersections.

If you have an editing program like Photoshop or Lightroom, you can change the crop of your image after the fact.  When cropping in Lightroom, it automatically pops up with a rule of thirds grid.  You can then fine-tune your composition to be more pleasing.

You can see in the image below (on the left) my daughter’s eye was already almost at one of the intersections of the rule of thirds grid (look closely and you can see a faint grey grid on the lightroom “develop module” screen.   Her eyes are actually along the top horizontal line, which is a pleasing composition.

However, in the image on the right, you can see that I am cropping the image.  The crop overlay is showing the image in true brightness, while the part I am considering cropping out has faded outside of the grid overlay.  I am changing the crop so that her eyes are along the top horizontal grid-line.

As nice as it is to have the capability to change your crop during post-processing, it’s not a good idea to solely rely on editing to obtain pleasing compositions.  It is better to train your eye to get your ideal crop “in-camera”.  One of the reasons why you don’t want to rely on post-processing cropping is because you lose image quality the more you crop.  Practically speaking, if you have used a high ISO, and then you try to crop intensely after the fact, your photo will appear even grainier than it was.

If you are trying to follow the rule of thirds and NOT have the eyes in the center of the image, you might want to use one of the outer focus points on your camera.  If you know ahead of time that you will be trying to follow this rule, you can set up one of the focus points that would fall near an intersection of the grid, and that will help you to both compose your photo with intention, and also to ensure that the eyes of your subject are in focus. The following image shows the focus points on a Canon T1i.  Each rectangle/square is a focus point, and for the purpose of this tutorial I put the overlay of the rule of thirds grid on top.  You can see that four of the focus points correspond with the intersections on the grid.  Those might be good focus points to choose.  Alternately, you might want to focus and re-compose, which means using your center focus point, and then changing your composition (where you’re aiming).

For the purpose of this challenge, try to obtain a rule of thirds composition in-camera. Compose your picture intentionally, and do not crop it afterward! It will encourage you to be intentional with how you compose your pictures!

You can see in the following picture how my daughter is centered in the frame.  It is not an interesting composition:

Here, she is lined up with one of the vertical grid-lines, and it is a more interesting composition, and it is following the rule of thirds:

E-mail your challenge photo to mwac.challenges@gmail.com by Tuesday, May 15. Anna will watermark as needed and we will critique the images during our May 17th meeting. After the meeting, we will post the images on facebook for you in a Rule of Thirds album. Have fun! Any questions or comments? Free free to post on the facebook page!

~Sonja

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