WPC: Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is applied by aligning a subject with the guide lines and their intersection points, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section.

summer rule of thirds

The theory is that if you place the point(s) of interest at the intersections, or along the lines you will have a better balanced image and the viewer will interact more naturally. With the photo above you can see that the main figures in this image are more or less in the bottom left sector and the main interest is in the lower half of the photo. I should have balanced the image though by having the horizon along the upper horizontal line.


In learning how to use the rule of thirds (and then to break it) the most important questions to be asking of yourself are:

  • What are the points of interest in this shot?
  • Where am I intentionally placing them?

Wagonga 2

Sometimes it will be necessary to use cropping and editing to re-frame the image so it fits the rules as I have done with the photo below. I liked the pelican and the jetty posts, but felt that the photo was uninteresting overall.


To my eye there was too much unnecessary space on the right of the shot. I wanted to balance the pelican in line with the intersection on the right with its head and beak on the upper horizontal line.

Wagonga 3a

So I did a little cropping from the left and right-hand sides to align the pelican and the post and because the background was a little dull I also converted it to black and white and upped the contrast slightly. Hopefully this has resulted in a better balanced and more interesting image.

Wagonga 3

When taking a close-up or macro shot you might also find yourself with a lovely bokeh background, where the out-of-focus parts are aesthetically blurred, but the subject is sharp. Again, think of the rule of thirds as to where you position your subject.

flamingo plant

Rules are of course meant to be broken, but it is worthwhile understanding the ‘rules of thirds’ first so that you understand why you want to break the rule.

lunchThis creative plate of food is more or less centred in my photograph. The reason for this is because I want you to focus on the food, and this composition felt right to me. I often shoot on instinct and although I have the idea of the ‘rules of thirds’ in my head I also consider the subject, the light and how I want to ‘frame’ the image.

I hope you find this useful and if you have any additional information to add then please do so in the comments. I’m not a ‘technical’ photographer so I have explained this in very simplistic terms.

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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

88 thoughts on “WPC: Rule of Thirds”

  1. Well done, Jude….nice explanation for those that don’t know RoT….like you, I thought the WordPress explanation rather lame and definitely misleading with all the Bokeh stuff!

  2. Very clear explanation of the rule of thirds Jude, doing the exercise with the pelican made it even clearer. I have a grid on my camera screen that I can turn on and off, but I usually have it on for scenic shots as it also helps keep the horizon straight. The term Bokeh was a new one to me and I have used that technique in the past but didn’t know it had a name…

    1. Japanese I think – bokeh – I only came across it on Flickr a few years ago and had created photos with blurry backgrounds for ages! There are even bokeh effects on some software apps now, though most look very artificial.

    1. Sylvia I am no photographic expert, I leave most settings to the camera and use only a bridge zoom and a compact zoom. But I do like being creative and maybe that’s what comes across to people 🙂

    1. I shall have to pop over to yours Tina. I am certain it will be far superior to my post. You can explain this in much more technical terms than I am able to. Hopefully my explanation demonstrates the difference in deciding where to place your subject, which is really the point of the rule of thirds.

  3. Great photos. And possibly the best photographic terms explanation I’ve ever read! I like how you explained in simple terms, thank you 🙂

  4. I always appreciate photographers who include some direction and explanation in their posts. It helps the newbies like me … I still struggle with basics like composition. Thanks for your simplified illustrations.

    btw – I too loved the 2nd photo 🙂

    1. I’m not a technical photographer Jo so don’t usually feel confident explaining “how to” but in this instance I felt that the original directions were misleading. I am so glad you liked the post.

  5. Thanks for this Jude. I’m grappling with this whole ‘rule of thirds’ thing, not really understanding it. This helped. I tend to take photos with the point of interest off to the side just because I like it that way, but have no idea about the technical terms for it. I’ve also never heard of a ‘bokeh’ background, although I did take a look over at the WP photo challenge explanation for that. Love yours 🙂 So now I’m going to have to have a think and see if I’ve got the gist of it or not…

    1. Sherri I think most photographers instinctively compose their images in a way to interact with their viewers. Generally speaking slapping your subject in the centre is less appealing, but there are times when this works well. Bokeh happens with a shallow DOF (depth of field) where the focus in on a small area of the subject and the rest of the photo becomes blurred. Professional cameras do this very well, less so with the smaller sensors of compact cameras.

      I shouldn’t worry about the techie stuff too much, just do what YOU like 🙂

      (BTW I am going to ask you to join in the B&W 5 day challenge that is going around at the moment. I think you could produce some great B&W shots so I hope you’ll consider joining in. Watch out for Day 3)

      1. Thanks Jude, this is great advice, but sorry for not getting back to you sooner (been one of ‘those’ weeks…) Just read your other comment too about the B&W challenge. Thanks so much for inviting me, you have great faith in me my friend! I have actually been asked by another blogger, Lilka, to take part and I told her I would be able to starting the week Monday, 9th March, but now I will also link to you too when I do 🙂 Right, over to your other posts now to catch up…

  6. I’m really glad you did the explanation – I was beginning to wonder if I’d got rule of thirds all wrong. And of course I loved the photos, reminding me of a great day with you, and home.

    1. Finally I managed to get some more images of the lovely Eurobodalla region onto the blog! I had the most wonderful time with you. Thank you again for being such a lovely host 🙂

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