Composition inc. the rule of thirds

Visual Stories Design & Lifestyle Blog Rotterdam
More weight on the left side.

I share what I see. That has always been one of the main motivators for me in blogging. It started with a Tumbr account sharing vintage brocante interiors, and gardens. I’ve since moved to other platforms for example; this blog (!), Pinterest, Instagram and my favorite —Unsplash

I count myself lucky to be on the Unsplash editorial page. I’m an enthusiast, but by far nothing more than a hobby photographer. I’m always trying to up my game and improve my photography. I’ve earlier took on the idea of sharing what I’ve learned but always felt hesitation because I’m not an expert. However I’ve decided to share my experiences, not only what I’ve learned, but what I am still learning and the things I’ve tackled, and the things I haven’t yet managed to apply to my work. For example Food Photography composition. nowhere else in photography is styling more important. A distracting tablecloth, messy background and clashing colors, or lack of color can make the food look unflattering and even unappetizing. The angles, the flow, the oh so many things you have to keep in mind using subjects that need to be photographed quickly. I will tackle it. I’m determined to do so. As I do I’ll share my experiences with you. 

For now I’ll start with the basics. I’m going to start with composition. From the Rule of Thirds to framing, depth, lines, color theory and much, much more. Today it’s all about The Rule Of Thirds.

What is good composition?

You can debate what a good composition is or isn’t. Maybe one type of composition is more interesting to look at than the other, but if it works for you, then maybe that’s good enough. However if you’re looking to up your game and improve your photography you might want to try mastering the basic rules of composition.

For me good composition is about drawing the viewer in, and guiding their eyes around the frame, pointing out the elements you want them to see. You need to draw their eyes to the subject, the part of the story you want them to be looking at.

Good photography knows and has rules, the best photographers know these rules, and use them. I personally find that it’s easier for me to create good composition when I do travel photography. As I mentioned earlier Food Photography is for me much more difficult. I think this has not only to do with experience but also confidence. For me shooting travel photography comes easily because I use my intuition and no exactly what I want to frame. I know what I want the viewer to look at. With Food Photography I’m less confident in what I’m doing. I just want to take pretty pictures, and I should be telling a story. <- Note to self!

The Rule Of Thirds

Almost every beginner chooses for a subject in the center of the image. It’s not necessarily wrong, but it can leave you with a boring image. The rule of thirds is a good way of making an otherwise boring composition more interesting. When shooting your subject simply divide your photo in your head into three sections, like with tic tac toe. Place the subject onto one of the lines instead of directly into the center. You can do this in a portrait vertical or horizontal photo.
Many cameras have a grid guideline on the screen that can be used to help you keep the rule of thirds in mind.

Using The Rule Of Thirds

The subject on the right using The Rule Of Thirds

Take for example the photo below from @tomcrewceramics on Unsplash. On the left you’ll see the original photos using the Rule of Thirds. I’ve edited them, placing the subject in the center. The photo on the right isn’t ‘wrong’ but using the Rule of Thirds makes the photography more appealing.

The subject on the right using The Rule Of Thirds
The subject on the right using The Rule Of Thirds
The subject on the right using The Rule Of Thirds

Below the photo from @sixteenmilesout is more interesting when the subject is placed to the right side (as is in the original).

Her choice of framing the cup on the left may or may not have been deliberate, it is however the more interesting. It’s about creating a photograph that feels right, and that is always very subjective. As you develop as a photographer, you have to learn to trust your intuition.

The subject on the left using The Rule Of Thirds
The subject on the left using The Rule Of Thirds
Original photo.
Using The Rule Of Thirds.
Centered. It is less appealing.

The Center of Attention

Sometimes the hero needs to be the center of attention! By getting really close to your subject, you get rid of all the distractions, and there is no doubt as to what is important in the frame. It can also be a way to surprise your viewer, by showing them a detail they might not have seen before.

Centered, but not a mirror image.
Centered, but not symmetric.

Making Final Selections

Sometimes you don’t have the time to apply the rules. For example with panning photos. It’s important to get yourself in place and your settings correct and when your subject appears in frame start shooting. When making your selection your choice will most likely be a photo where the subject is not in the center. 

Next time: The Rule of Odds

Hopefully this was helpful. I think one of the best exercises is looking through images you like and pinpointing what it is you like about them. Do they use The Rule Of Thirds? Maybe they use a lot of negative space? Maybe now you could just focus on The Rule Of Thirds. Maybe you already use the rule instinctively. Try playing around with some objects and take some test shots. Go outside if you can and take a few photos using the rule and a few without. Take note of which you find appealing. 

I went through some of my own photos for this post and noticed that in my compositions with objects (not outdoor) that I place things maybe too much towards the center according to The Rule Of Thirds. I like them though so that’s what counts. That said I’m going to try and be more aware of this basic rule in my next shoot. I’ll let you know how it goes!


Next time around I’ll go more into composition techniques, one being The Rule of Odds and symmetric vs. asymmetric. 

Thanks for stopping by.


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