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Cee’s Compose Yourself Photo Challenge: Week #9 Rule of Thirds Introduction

This week’s CCY Theme is Rule of Thirds Introduction.  Cee’s Compose Yourself Photo Challenge (CCY) will be a combination weekly “tips and tricks” combined with a photo challenge.

5-gold-starsFor your weekly assignment I would like to see at least 4-6 photos of photos taken with the Rule of Thirds in mind.   Please described what you learned in this lesson as well.

Each week I will select several features from everyone who submits an entry.  And from those posts that I feature, I will grant one blogger the Gold Star Award.  To find out who was awarded the Gold Star Award and Features for this week, please see CCY Week 8 – Gold Star Award and Features for Diagonal Lines.

Note:  Participants who do not have at least 4 photo showing their attempt at this week’s topic in their post will not be featured nor be considered for the Gold Star Award.


How’s this moon photo I took for a classic example? The moon is on the dot in the upper right.

How’s this moon photo I took for a classic example? The moon is on the dot in the upper right.

Any experienced photographer will tell you that the Rule of Thirds is perhaps the most essential of rules, but they probably can’t tell you WHY it works. The truth is that we don’t know, but it just does. We don’t know enough about the brain and how it works to answer the why of it. Chris and I were watching a television series called Brain Games where they present various optical illusions and explain why and how our brain gets tricked. I think they should do a show on the rule of thirds.

For some reason, an off-center picture is more pleasing to us. It looks more natural. We know from the Brain Game tv show that if we stare at something right in the middle of the screen, our peripheral vision diminishes to the point where it’s not working much at all. Maybe that is what’s happening… we like things off-centered so that we can see more of what’s going on around us.


We also know that the brain fills in negative space, so maybe that’s all part of how we tell stories with pictures. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

So let’s divide your view finder into a gird with nine boxes  (see grid for landscape photos to the right). The rule of thirds says that you should place the subject of your picture on one of the points where the lines intersect.

Let’s try out the Rule of Thirds with one of my favorite water lily shots.  Putting the flower in the lower left works well.

113015rule of 1_3_3

Here’s another with the subject, my dog Shadow, in the upper right. See how dramatic her placement can be?

Black and White

The Rule of Thirds also refers to using the columns and rows in your pictures. You can use the bottom third to anchor your subject and create a sense of perspective using the negative space above it, like in this picture I took at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm.


Here is an example of using the leading vertical third to create drama and tension. I could crop this to put the man in the center of the shot but then you’d just see some guy sitting on a log. But by leaving two-thirds of the picture as negative space, you start to fill in the end of his story. Did his lover just tell him it is over? Did he just lose his job? Is he pondering some momentous life decision? 120115rule of 1_3

This little girl is having a much better day at the beach. She looks like she’s having fun, racing off to see something else. She’s in the right third, with the negative space on the left because she’s moving left. We instinctively look to the left to see where she’s going. If I had shot it with her on the left, we wouldn’t have nearly as much interest in her because she would be almost out of the shot and gone from sight.

101915hat_1Let’s do one more beach photo before we move on. Here’s one that bends the Rule of Thirds until it’s almost broken. The shot is divided almost equally into three horizontal bands. There is negative space in the middle, and more in the sand in the bottom third. The subject of the photo is in the lower left. This picture is off balance with the heaviness of the ocean in the top band.


Enough of the beach. Here’s a simple one that keeps the subject in the lower third.

120115rule of 1_3_1

And another using the lower third to anchor the shot. I love the zen feeling of the gently swirling ripples above the stone.

101915ccy_1 One more showing the left third.


And here’s one to break the Rule of Thirds by combining the rule in two variations. You can use the rule by showing your subject in one third of the picture with two-thirds being negative space, or you can put your subject in two-thirds of the shot with one-third negative space, but that’s something we’ll talk about next time.

These doors are oddly appealing. I’ve captured my subject in the left two-thirds, so I’m expecting negative space in the right third to balance out the picture. My eye sees the empty wall and is reassured it knows what’s coming next, but then it sees the right third filled up with a more solid, heavier block of color. That unexpected transition automatically forces my eye back to the left so my brain can double check it’s calculations. It’s a paradox for your brain. If I had the time, I’d photoshop two more pictures, replacing the blank wall on the different thirds to show you how differently the pictures would look.


Upcoming Challenges

  • Week #9 Rule of Thirds Introduction (current week)
  • Week #10 Using 2/3 of your photo frame
  • Week #11 On Center Point and Square photos
  • Week #12 Critique My Work – I will give show you a couple of photos and you can either copy them and correct the compositional errors or write a post about how I got things wrong or right
  • Week #13 Perspective
  • Week #14 Symmetry
  • Week #15 Cropping Tips
  • Week #16 Intersections

Qi (energy) hugs


73 replies »

  1. I have to give this some thought. Excellent explanation and examples. I think a lot of us know this stuff instinctively, but never put it together in coherent language. Thank you doing so.


  2. I jsut had the camera out this morning, taking new photos…all of them thirds! 🙂 Working them up now! 🙂 Your photos are very lovely Cee and you captured the “thirds” very well! 🙂


      • You have inspired me greatly! There is always something I see, I photograph it, and always, I say to myself “I bet I could use this for one of Cee’s Challenges” I’m really happy that I found you and your blog! 🙂


  3. Thanks for such a good explanation of the rule of thirds. I’ve been aware of it for a long time but I don’t conciously think of it when I’m taking pictures. It seems to come more in the sorting and editing phase for me. I think it is an instinctive thing for most of us though, you know when something doesn’t look right through the lens. My sister’s hobby is art, she’s learning to paint and also uses the rule of thirds. I’m off to Hobart today with the camera to chase another cruise ship so hopefully I will come home with something to post tonight. if it doesn’t rain. 🙂


  4. some of your examples (the stone and the lock) made me think… I would have never dared the stone composition but it works! and as for the lock, I always struggle how/where to put it. silly me, I never thought of the rule of thirds for that kind of subject. I like your dog the most-that she is in the corner, the stripe of light, B&W, even the texture of the carpet works well with everything.
    here are my takes:


  5. You explain it so well here! It’s so interesting how no one really knows why an off center photo is so much more appealing to us. I love all your examples!


  6. things are a bit crazy busy in my corner, otherwise i would have enjoyed participating with this topic. some insightful info on the rule of thirds, one of my favourite photography tips i bumped into early on on my digital photo journey.
    thanks for all the info and the great examples. keep up the great work!


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