The Rule of Thirds, Part 3--Points

Gulf Fritillary
Now that we've looked at the spaces and lines in the rule of thirds, we need to consider the points of intersection within the rule of thirds.  Think again of the tic-tac-toe grid overlying your photograph.  When the subject of your photograph is small enough in the frame to allow you to do so, one way to make use of the rule of thirds is to place the subject on one of the four points of intersection in the grid.  You can then orient  your subject so that it is facing into the frame, and you often will have a very fine composition. Again, the placement does not have to be exact.  For instance, if you were following the golden ratio, your subject would be slightly "inside" the intersection of the rule of thirds anyway.

Don't make the rule of thirds the sole aspect of design in your composition.  In the above photograph of a Gulf Fritillary, there are many compositional concerns concerns to keep in mind.  For one thing, I wanted a softly-focused but pleasantly arranged grouping of leaves in the background.  For another, I wanted a couple white flowers in the frame.  Notice in this picture, you could rotate the camera significantly while keeping the butterfly on the same intersection point.  Because of the angle of view on the butterfly, many orientations would still look natural.  Other than keeping the shadow side of the butterfly's body below the lit side, you have freedom to rotate the camera to frame the shot the way you want and still put the butterfly near the intersection of the rule of thirds.  You should make sure take all that is important to you and include those in your composition, removing what is not important, and let the rule of thirds help you do that.

I sometimes hear people review photographs with statements like, "I like the way you followed the rule of thirds."  Well, what makes the picture work or not work is not precisely that you followed or didn't follow the rule.  The rule of thirds is a tool that can help you achieve your goals.  Our critiques should actually be something like, "I like the way your use of the rule of thirds affected your composition in this way."  This is probably what reviewers mean, but it brings up a point to keep in mind when photographing any subject.  Use the rule of thirds to your advantage when it helps.  It just so happens that it often does, but don't let your goal be to follow it--instead, use it to aid your compositions.


  1. It's an interesting and challenging photo. It challenges because the whole "weight" of the picture lies to the lower right, so that the first impression is that the butterfly is improperly centered!

    But then on second look, the butterfly and button-bush balance out the leaves on the left. The color contrasts give the whole thing balance (how do you DO that?!).

    And with that in mind, the picture takes on a different look: the Gulf Fritillary is in apparent (but illusory!) motion towards the top left.

    Very, very interesting.

  2. Thanks, Jeff, for your kind words. I'm planning a post on "balance" in the near future, but I haven't decided on how to write it yet. I think so much of the process of composing a "balanced" image is so intuitive that it's hard to put it in words. But soon...


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