Composition Corner-Rule of Thirds

In our initial look at how you compose a shot I used an example of texture and pattern to make a picture, in this example I am going to pick a long established “rule” I say long established because this particular rule has been in use for millennia in paintings,drawings and other flat artwork, long before photography appeared on the scene.
“Rule” is perhaps too strong a word for this, but as it is founded in mathematics, and numeracy requires accuracy generally we will call it a rule, although it has to be a little bit flexible.And I would hate to think folk approached photography, an art form, too rigidly.

Don’t be too Strict
So please don’t be too strict with yourself when applying this “rule” if you deviate a little no probs.
So what is this “rule?” It is called the “rule of thirds” And simply explained if you divide your shot up along its long and short edges into equidistant lines, then if you place your subject matter along one of these lines, or even better where any of these lines cross then your picture will generally look a little more aesthetically pleasing than if you always slap the subject matter in the centre.
Here below is an example of this grid overlaid onto a picture.

Nudibranch in Indonesia its head compositionally placed on the intersection of the grid.
Nudibranch in Indonesia its head compositionally placed on the intersection of the grid.

This could be the eyeline of a creature or a key element in your shot like a waterline or horizon, what you place on the intersections or lines themselves are what you want the viewer to concentrate their attention upon.
Another example below with the focal point of the shot the “heart” of this sea urchin.This is clearly not exactly on the intersecting thirds and is hopefully demonstarting that you shouldn’t be too rigid applying this.

An example showing an overlaid "rule of thirds" grid.
An example showing an overlaid “rule of thirds” grid.

There are a couple of provisos to this, if you are shooting most things animate, and that includes your buddy, it is best usually to have them looking into the picture rather than at one of the edges looking out, unless you feel that works better with that particular shot.
Also it’s worth not putting something on each and every intersection in the mistaken belief that you are increasing the shots compositional worth exponentionally, this rarely works and often ends up looking too fussy.
Practice often, it will become a hard wired response over time, and you will instinctively frame your shots in this way. Go out with your camera phone as an exercise and try and frame up the most mundane subject matter in such a way that it becomes more interesting just because of your framing.
Even without a camera in hand you can frame things in your minds eye, it’s fun and diverting, and gives the brain matter a creative workout, and can be done absolutely anywhere.
Some cameras these days have the ability to display a “rule of thirds” grid onto the LCD screen, so if you are a bit unsure at first that you are getting it right, then use this function to overlay the lines as an aide memoire.
I guess you could always draw your own with a ruler onto a screen protector for your camera or phone if your device couldn’t do this.
Whatever you do don’t stress too much about obeying the “rule” the more you use this technique the more apparent it will be to you when this isn’t going to work for the shot in hand.