Composition Basics: Rule of Thirds

There are several different rules of composition but the first one you should start off with is the rule of thirds. With just this simple skill you will go from taking snapshots to making images. Put simply, think of a Tic-Tac-Toe grid overlaid on your image and then place the subject on the lines as best you can. If you can put an important element just as the primary eye right on the intersection of two lines then you get an even more powerful image.

Portrait Example

A quick example of this is to look at a simple portrait shot. The eyes are right on the top line which works really well to add some extra pop to the image.

Move mouse over image to overlay grid

More Examples

In this next example the main focus was to put the line on chairs on the bottom line and get the couple as close to the right vertical line as possible. While they aren’t exactly on the line (because I wanted to maintain the small chunk of pier on the left) they are close enough that it helps the overall composition to work well.

Move mouse over image to overlay grid

The final example is a combination of  hitting several different points on our grid. The primary flower in the bottom left is on the intersection of the left line and the bottom line making it a very prominent part of the image and the water on the horizon is right on the top line giving a nice feeling of symmetry.

Move mouse over image to overlay grid

In Camera or In Post

Most current cameras will have a rule-of-thirds overlay on the rear LCD in Live View mode and some that have electronic viewfinders can do it as well. If you are using Adobe Lightroom, when you go into the crop tool (R keyboard shortcut) you will get a rule-of-thirds overlay that will help you to crop and move your image to use this composition tool.

Try this out yourself and see how well this helps to improve your images.


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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1 Response

  1. Dave says:

    It's honestly crazy how powerful this rule is. Too many people do the 'bullseye', which rarely makes for a good photo. (at the very least, it doesn't improve the photo)

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