Rule of Thirds

Today we are going back to the basics to help everyone out there take a better photo.

This is photography kindergarten.  Maybe pre-K.  So if you are an old pro…just roll your eyes at this post and move it right along.

Today we are talking about the rule of thirds.  In photography it is a basic principle to help the picture achieve balance and visually be more interesting.  I remember when I was a wee little lad in the land of India (yes I am a weirdo), I watched this wonderfully masterful painter with the most exquisite hairdo….his name?  Bob Ross.  In one of the episodes, he talked about how your eye should travel along the painting…in a circle like pattern so that you stayed enraptured with his hair…I mean…art.  Basically, your eye naturally rests in certain spots when you are looking at art or a picture or that five pound bag of peanut M&M’s.  Those spots – let’s call them POWER POINTS, are the place where you want the focal of the photo.  So where are these elusive power points?  Glad you asked.

Let’s take a regular old photo and work through this together…

First you divide your photo in thirds both vertically and horizontally creating nine zones.  Those dividing lines (shown below in bright blue) can be part of your camera’s view finder or be just in your head (instead of “I see dead people” you can think “I see divided people”).  Either way, this divided frame is helpful in composing a photo.  You want to put your photo’s subject (people’s eyes, their profile, that ugly bird you must capture, etc.) along those lines.  The power points are the intersections of those blue lines.  There is a very specific power point that draws your eye right to my eye.  We are basically looking at each other…right…now.

Your eye should then travel over to LJ’s head….then along my bent arm and then back up to my face… a circle like motion.  That Bob Ross is a frickin’ genius.

Here’s another example of power points.  Take a look at the photo below.  Note where your eye naturally interacts on an initial basis.   Is the first place you look into his face?  His hand?  That black line at the top of the photo?

If you answered his eye, it is because that is a natural resting spot for your eye because it is a power point.  Throw our dividing lines on top of the photo and you can see that intersection on the top right is right on top of the cuties eyeball.  Your eye travels from his face down that 1/3 line and to his clothing/hand then over to his feet…back to his face…in a circular fashion.

This rule is definitely not a steadfast-never-break-it-or-you-shall-die kinda thing…it’s more of a guideline.  At the end of the day, you want to create visual interest and putting your subject in the very center doesn’t create balance or keep your eye engaged in the photo.  There are times when I break this rule…like for instance putting the subject off the third lines to the extreme left or right.

Take this photo for example.  You can see that I put LJ’s stink eye to the far right of the photo.

I could have cropped it like below to make his eyes more of the focal point.  But instead I prefer the one above because it makes you look at what he is looking at.  To me, that is more visually interesting because it tells more of a story.

Here is another reason to break that rule of thirds in post processing….when cropping means violence.

If you are trying to crop to put your person in that dividing line or to make their face fall on a power point…that is fine and dandy until someone gets photoshop-hurt.  Don’t chop off the hands, head, feet or body parts in your crop just to make it fall exactly on that line.  Stop the violence people.

So now here comes some more examples for you of how I composed photos and you can see how the face or eyes or point of interest falls right on that power point or dividing line.

So next time you are setting up to snap a photo…remember to move your body back and forward and move that camera left and right to compose for max interest and balance!  Hope this helps!  Happy shooting!

p.s.  Chelsea at the blog Two Twenty One interviewed me for her mom series!  Hard hitting mommy questions.  CNN type stuff.  Click here to read.



    • says

      We love Destin. It’s definitely our favorite. But in terms of our experiences – we have always had private homes in Destin (one time we stayed at a condo and it was not a great experience) but the beaches are unreal when it is not crowded. The PCB beaches were nice where we stayed this past time but there was tons of seaweed this past week so it marred our experience. And Gulf Shores was beautiful when we went but the sand wasn’t quite as nice as Destin and the water was a little more rough when we were there. I think it comes down to weather and where you stay (crowds, beach access, etc.)
      xo – kb

  1. Alexandra says

    I never knew this before – awesome! Also, had to comment on that picture of your boys on Chelsea’s blog — O M G priceless! You can just imagine what they are saying to eachother in that picture…. Weston: “Will, how much longer do you think this is going to last.. She’s already taken 800 pictures?” Will: “Dude, just smile and she’ll be done soon.” LJ (to no one in particular): “I AM NOT AMUSED.” :)

  2. says

    I can still learn a lot from this. I’ve been struggling to get the best photographs for my blog. I’m not always satisfied but post them anyway. Only recently I’ve been starting to experiment with photoshop, but I still need to get the hang of it.
    The interview on Two Twenty One is very interesting. I loved reading it.

  3. Beth says

    Thanks Katie! I’ve heard of the rule of thirds before, but your explanation was so helpful getting it straight in my head.

    One follow-up though. Are any of the power points more powerful than the others? It seems many photos use the upper right corner the most.

  4. Kim says

    Love your references to Bob Ross – he was the best! It’s amazing how so many of us from that generation watched a show like his. Those happy little trees!

    Good tips – I’m just beginning to take pictures with a “real” camera and need all the help I can get!

  5. morgan says

    Could you do another “day in the life” post some time? That one is my favorite! And I have a third little munchkin now, and this three kids who are three years old and under is craziness! I would love to know what your day is like.

  6. says

    ah! rule of the thirds! i learned it in high school journalism and i think it’s the #1 thing that makes photos look better — mostly because it’s SO SIMPLE. stuff like shutter speed and f-stop is hard to figure out. but rule of the thirds? anyone can do that.

  7. Cori says

    I know this rule of thirds all makes sense and is based on our natural instincts and habits, but I still feel like it’s MAGIC that you know exactly where my eyes looked first! You’re a regular David Copperfield, you are! Thanks for sharing this simple secret.

  8. Pally says

    Hello Katie.. I would love to know about the new born photo of LJ with his hands supporting his chin. Did you stitch or clone two images together or did you actually get LJ to pose that way? If you did use the cloning tool, would it be possible for you to do a tutorial on it? Thanks

    • says

      I know how to clone two photos to do that but I actually pose the baby like that. It’s a little trick that I acquired while I was doing lots more newborn shoots.
      xo -kb

  9. Pally says

    Please Katie could you elaborate? I have been dying to take a picture this way but scared of their neck support. I would really appreciate it

  10. S says

    Hi Katie! I was noticing lately how fantastic you look, especially after just having a baby! I was wondering if you’d ever think of doing a post on your diet/excercise routine.

    • says

      Um. I don’t really do either. I just breastfeed. And I am still 25 lbs above my prepregnancy weight…I just hide it in photos with children and flowy outfits :)
      xo – kb

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