Rule of Thirds - A Law That You Can Break

Rule of Thirds : A Law That You Can Break

Rule of Thirds is an important basic technique of photography for creating a balanced photo composition. This principle is used in conjunction with the placement of Point of Interest (POI) or focus on a photo.

The application of the Rule of Thirds is carried out by using imaginary 2 vertical and 2 auxiliary horizontal lines which form 9 squares of the same size. This can be done by imagining in our head or with the help of Grid features on any nowadays digital camera.

The four lines will cross one another and produce 4 intersection points. The size of the resulting square and the position of the point of intersection will vary depending on the used ratio aspect.

The application of the “rule” can be described using below illustration.

Illustration 1 : (aspect ratio 1:1)

Illustration 2 : (aspect ratio 4:3)

You can see the cross section differs on both aspect ratios,

Why use the Rule of Thirds?


It’s actually funny because this fact is not known by many people, but it turns out that according to a study, the human eye will naturally move towards certain points when looking.

The human eye will try to find POIs before sending them to the brain for processing. And, according to the same study, the natural movement of the eye a flat field follows the path of lines.

The four intersection points are the starting points where the human eye will focus for the first time.

The concept of the rule of thirds is based on this study. This will help the eyes of someone looking at a photo to be able to comfortably move along a natural path and at the same time find a focal point, the essence of a photo.


Compared to placing a photo subject in the middle, using the rule of thirds actually makes a photo more balanced and interesting.

In a photo, there should be a subject that become the core of the “story”, the focus, the thing a photographer wants the spectator to look at and a background.

The common way to place the subject in the center tends to make most of the background appear cut off.

By using the “rule of thirds”, most of the background will still be visible and tell a “story” of its own.

The photo will become more balanced, the subject stands out and the background supports it to make a complete story.


The rule of thirds helps a photo to have a clear and prominent main role, as well as easy-to-find points of interest.

For example, in the photo “sales girl” above, which was taken on Jalan Suryakencana, Bogor during the Cap Go Meh Bogor 2016, it will be easy to find what the subject and main focus is, the girl.

The eyes of anyone who see it will be immediately led to the more important part, the beauty of the girl.


Proven! Although, not all attractive photos use this rule of thirds, the majority of photos that manage to catch the eye are taken using this technique as a basis.

Therefore, the majority of photographers or photography enthusiasts will try to train themselves and apply them when taking pictures.

How to Apply the Rule of Thirds When Taking a Photograph?

Applying the rule of thirds in taking photos is not difficult. You just need to pay attention to a few things, such as

  • Horizontal line
  • Vertical Line
  • /Intersection or Cut Point between lines

Horizontal Line :

This horizontal line can be used

1/ to ensure that the horizon line remains straight and keep the photo straight.

2/ As a guide where to place the horizon line. As much as possible the horizon is placed as closest as possible to one of the two existing horizontal lines.

Vertical Line : The vertical line is a benchmark where the subject should be positioned.

Cut Point is the place where the point of interest, the most interesting or attractive part is located. As in the photo of the salesgirl, where the face is the focus, the placement of this POI is close to the point of intersection.

Rule of Thirds - A Law That You Can Break

Rules of Thirds for all objects

This principle applies not only to human and animal objects. This concept can also be applied to all type objects, in the form.

Tools to apply rule of thirds for camera shooting

Today’s digital cameras are usually equipped with a feature based on the rule of thirds. In fact, even a smartphone camera has this function. However, it’s not called as rule of thirds feature but named as GRID or LINES.

If you don’t like to see line in your camera LCD monitor, you can use your imagination to draw horizontal and vertical lines in your mind.

An experienced photographer often does not activate the GRID feature. They are usually used to placing objects in positions taught by this concept. Whenever they see interesting object, automatically, their brain draws lines and start to think where to place the subject.

Rule of thirds can be violated!

Photography is closer to an art than to an exact science. Therefore, almost all theories or rules in it are not absolute. It is more like a suggestion and not coercion.

Everybody is free to use or not.

If someone, according to his tastes and views, thinks using this concept will actually produce the desired results, then they may ignore it. Nobody will punish you, especially if the taken photo is stunning.

So, there is no obligation to always use it. Besides, a photographer should rely on their intuition more than just strictly following any theories.

You should try this rule. I did it and it helps a lot in my development as a photographer.

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