The Rule of Thirds is a compositional principle that is widely used. And for good reason because, well, it works. At least, it works in a lot of situations.
What is the Rule of Thirds? You superimpose a tic-tac-toe grid on your image, two vertical lines equally spaced and two horizontal lines equally spaced. Then you place the key elements of your image on or near those lines, or at one of their intersections. They don’t have to be exactly on the lines or intersections, just near them. This is art, not engineering, so it’s important that it feels right. But the Rule of Thirds gives us positions that are visually very strong and command the viewer’s attention. That’s why you want to use this principle for the key elements of your composition, the elements you want to draw the viewer’s eye to.
One should be cautious in overusing the Rule of Thirds. It should not be applied mechanically and certainly not universally. It does not apply to all compositions. After all, aren’t our ‘Rules’ of composition made to be broken? But on the other hand, sometimes a composition gets just a little bit stronger when you move the key element just a tiny bit to place it closer to or right on a 1/3rd line.
The fact is it works so well in so many situations that the camera manufacturers give us the ability to display the grid on our camera’s LCD screens and viewfinders. Also, software publishers like Adobe display the grid when we use the crop tool. This is true of Elements, Lightroom and Photoshop. And these aids can be very helpful in achieving strong compositions.
Why does the Rule of Thirds work so well? To answer that let’s talk about Visual Tension.
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It may not be obvious at first but a photograph’s border is a critical element of a successful composition. All too often we get so focused on the subject that the borders get ignored. Because it’s so important I’m writing a second post on the subject. To read the first post you can click on this link – Mastering Composition – Border Patrol.
For this post take a look at this photograph.
The photograph is of the famous tunnel at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, California. In wintertime, as you can see, not only do the waves come crashing through but the setting sun turns the water to liquid gold. It’s easy to get so absorbed by the spectacle that important elements of the composition get ignored. Can you see what I missed here?
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Tags: Big Sur, blue, border patrol, California, color palette, composition, contrasting colors, crop, dark tonality, golden light, light tonality, Pfeiffer beach, rule of thirds, tonality, visual center of gravity, yellow
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There are many rules of composition. I know people don’t like to use the term rules and for good reason. If you treat these rules as if they are hard and fast you can end up with compositions that are mechanical. So I prefer to call them ‘principles of composition.’ Now I’ve said before that composition is a problem solving endeavor. That is, you have been inspired by what lies before you, you have connected with it and you have an idea of what you want to say. And one of the key elements in communicating your message is the composition you choose. There is generally a point where this becomes very much of a problem solving effort, meaning it can get very analytical. And while the analysis may be important if not essential, it can cloud aesthetic considerations. Take for example this photograph of dawn in the Little Lakes Basin up Rock Creek in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.
I was drawn to this Lodgepole Pine growing from a cleft in the granite above the lake. I gave a lot of thought to this composition and compositional principles came very much into play. The way I saw it, the two key elements were the tree and the lake. I didn’t think of the peaks in the distance as being a key element although I knew they were important. And I was aware of the lake as a leading line the drew the eye to them. I placed the tree on the right 1/3 line so that it wouldn’t block the lake. And I enjoyed the wonderful alpenglow as I captured a few images through the final minutes of civil twilight. Then I wandered off looking for other photographs. But later, after the sun came up I was drawn back to this tree and saw it completely differently.
Continue reading “Mastering Composition – Balance” »
Tags: alpenglow, balance, California, composition, Little Lakes Basin, Lodgepole Pine, photo workshops, photography, photography workshop, Rock Creek, rule of thirds, rules of composition, Sierra Nevada Mountains
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Composition is one of the four pillars of a strong landscape photograph (See Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars). There are many approaches to mastering composition and certainly countless excellent books on the topic. Many books discuss the elements of design and how they relate to composition – line, shape, form, texture, pattern and color. Others go into the various rules of composition – rule of thirds, golden rule, leading lines, near / far, layers, frames, etc.
All of these rules or principles are very analytical and, I think, are necessary and useful building blocks. Often creating a strong composition is very much of a problem-solving endeavor. But in the end I believe the goal of the composition is to support what the artist wants to communicate through the image. And this comes more from compositions that just feel right, not ones that are mechanically created from the rules. That’s not to say that one is not aware of these principles as the composition is being worked out. Rather these principles are like words in a sentence. They are carefully chosen so that the sentence as a whole communicates the author’s message. There are several techniques that lead us to this goal. And one of them is to ask yourself, ‘’”What am I photographing?”
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Tags: balance, Big Sur, blue, coast, color, composition, cool, design, form, hue, isolate, landscape, leading line, line, pacific, pattern, photograph, photography, rule of thirds, Salmon Falls, shape, simplify, texture, warm, waterfall, workshop
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I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to what goes in to making a great landscape photograph. It turns out there are four things, four pillars if you will. Four, that’s a good number. There are the four legs of a table or the four wheels of a car. And not to forget the four sacred directions of the Native Americans.
In landscape photography the four pillars are evenly divided between the aesthetics and the technical. So what are they? The two aesthetic pillars are Fantastic Light and Strong Composition. No surprise there. The two technical pillars are Appropriate Sharpness and Optimum Exposure. No surprise there either. If just one of those pillars is missing, well, the table collapses, the image suffers.
Let’s look at them one by one….
(click on the images to enlarge them)
Joshua Tree Spring Sunrise (2011)
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Tags: Aperture, balance, border patrol, cloudy, color, composition, constrast, cool, f/stop, fine art, focal distance, focal length, focus, golden hour, grad nd filter, graduated neutral density filter, HDR, High Dynamic Range, histogram, hyperfocal distance, light, luminance, mid-day, midday, open shade, overcast, photography, rule of thirds, shadows, sharpness, tonality, twilight, unity, visual tensioin, warm
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