Thoughts on the Rule of Thirds

Its been a while since I have sat down and put my thoughts together to write a completely cerebral post – well here goes. I was reading through a book – “The Photographer’s Mind” by Michael Freeman. This is perhaps the second piece of literature that I have read from Freeman. The first covered the prequel to this book, “The Photographer’s Eye”. Both books need to be taken in sequence, as one simply buttresses the other. But, in “The Photographer’s Mind”, he ventures to explain some of the elements that draw a person to an image one of which is the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds is perhaps the most talked about means of drawing interest to your image. I think that it is discussed so much that most persons have forgotten, or perhaps don’t know, what makes it significant. There have been many judges that I have met at the Syracuse Camera Club who have simply dismissed an image on the basis that the image did not follow the Rule of Thirds in positioning the subject of the photograph – but why?

I have seen some images where the subject has been placed dead centre and they have been rather successful, even more so than attempting the same image using the Rule of Thirds. But that still does not explain why the rule of thirds is considered a constant necessity. Well, in his book, Freeman explains that human beings like to bring order out of chaos. If something is cluttered we try to simplify, if something is disarranged, we try to arrange it in some pattern or order. It is truly us imposing our own will on something to try to bring harmony or to reduce “tension”. So, what better way to draw interest to a particular bit of subject matter in an image by raising tension. We place objects off centre because it forces us to ask, what is that thing over there that seems to break the harmony of this image.  This thing which sits off centre may agitate but, when taken together with the rest of the image, can be considered as part of the whole. But certainly, its position does draw attention because of its tendency to jog our human tendency to organize.

Should the Rule of Thirds be used all the time? No. There are some images which do not lend themselves well to the Rule of Thirds. The only way we are going to find out what works and what does not is through practice but by no means should we believe that we have a need to stick to the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds is one of many guides to raise interest in an image and it is our ability to use it effectively which allows us to make images that draw interest.

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