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Photography: Positioning and the Rule of Thirds

Photography: Positioning and the Rule of Thirds

When taking photographs we are all aware that there are tricks for getting great shots. Pointing and shooting works for some people but the majority of us are looking for something better than that. That’s where the rules of positioning comes in. But although we call them ‘rules’, they’re not strict, they are guidelines to help you get those great shots you see in magazines, galleries and on mantlepieces.

So what is the rule of thirds?

When you look through your lens, imagine 2 horizontal and vertical lines splitting up the image in front of you. Then try to position your image along these lines.  Why? Because it makes your photographs consistent, professional and definitely more pleasing to the eye.

How to use the rule of thirds?

You can imagine the lines are there for yourself or you can set them up to show as you shoot, on your digital camera for ease.

The horizontal line helps you line up the camera with the landscape in front of you (for example the upper line could line up with the sky and the lower with the ground). And the vertical lines help you determine where to place your subject.

Avoid ‘Mugshots’

You would think a centralised shot of a person would be a great way to shoot a portrait, as it makes it symmetrical, but more often than not it creates more of an uncomfortable ‘mugshot’ style. But by placing your subject off-centre you can create a much more natural image. This also gives you the opportunity to get creative with the surrounding empty space.

Tips for Shooting

  • Like we said before, it’s not about hard rules here. The guidelines don’t have to be perfectly aligned to your image. As long as you get your subject and horizon is close to these lines, you will still get a great shot.
  • If you are going to take a picture of a horizon, try to incorporate another subject into the frame – like a person or a tree. This will act as an anchor for the image and will provide a more interesting focal point.
  • If you are going to try to capture a vertical subject, like a person or building, take it slightly off centre so the image doesn’t appear split down the middle.
  • We are drawn to people’s eyes, so place eyes near one of the intersections of the guidelines.
  • Give a subject ‘breathing space’ when taking a few portrait shots, put them slightly off centre, it’s much more aesthetically pleasing and natural.
  • When doing a close up, it’s also good to provide some empty space. The whole frame does not need to be filled up. As long as you line your subject up with the guidelines, the image will look great.
  • Leave more space in front of moving subjects so that you can capture the direction they are travelling in. Your picture will then be able to tell a story.
  • Even if you didn’t capture the image right in reality, you can still use the rule of thirds when editing. On software like Photoshop, you can use built in crop guide overlays to help you see the lines as you crop.

But by all means play around with your images. The rule of thirds won’t work for everything, experiment with other styles but use it as an idea of how you can make your photos more pleasing to the eye and less conventional.


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