Rule of Thirds

By April 18, 2015Photography Tips

Composition is super important for telling a story with your imagery.

If you struggle with composition in your photos the easiest thing to do to improve is to think about the Rule of Thirds as you’re are taking and editing photos. Seen below, the Rule of Thirds states that images are more pleasing when the main focal points of the image align along the intersections of the horizontal and vertical lines separating an image into thirds.

Rule of Thirds

The easiest starting point is to place only one main focal point along one of the intersections of the horizontal and vertical thirds. In this image below, the phone case is located on the intersection of the right third and top third. If you only take photos on your iPhone using the Rule of Thirds is simple. All you need to do is go into Instagram or the camera settings on your phone and turn on the Grid.

rule of thirds example

Once you’re feeling more confident with having one focal point, add a second focal point that helps tell the rest of the story of the image. I love the image below because it shows Julia, but the table on the balcony is what really sets the scene. Remove the table on the balcony and it’s just Julia in a cute outfit sipping some coffee. Add in the table on the balcony and you have Julia, about to enjoy an amazing weekend brunch along the balcony of the Parisian apartment we rented. The addition of the flowers, croissants, coffee and strawberries makes you dream of living that moment.

2 focus rule of thirds

Any time you’re playing with two focal points, it’s best to figure out how you want the viewer to progress through the image. In general, the larger and/or closer focal point will be where the viewer’s eyes will start. The story of your image should be about this subject with the second focal point playing a supporting role. By placing the other focal points along the other thirds, the viewer has an easier transition to the rest of the image. When I look at the photo above, first I see Julia’s eyes and then I see the flowers. In the image below my eyes go to the leaves on the top left, since they are larger and closer and then my eyes find their way to the dancing girl statue. When taking this picture I wanted to show a pristine spot where you could sit on a bench and marvel at the beauty that this small town of Weggis, Switzerland had to offer.

Weggis Switzerland Photography

Crop to Rule of Thirds

Didn’t get the image right in camera? That’s ok, as long as you were close it’s super easy to crop your image in Lightroom, Photoshop or any other image editing software. In fact, all cropping tools I’ve ever used have the Thirds Grid built into the design. In the image below, I wanted to highlight Julia on the beach, the rock wall going off into the horizon and the really cool shape of the palm tree above.

Rule of Thirds Crop Example

The Rule doesn’t always apply

Remember, that the Rule of Thirds doesn’t always apply. While I’m visualizing the Rule of Thirds anytime I’m shooting Landscapes or Lifestyle shots. I’m less picky about the Rule if I’m shooting highly symmetrical shots or when shooting style photos. Here are two examples below.

Paris symmetry

Non rule of thirds




  • Ann Krembs says:

    I love this post. I always hear about the rule of thirds, but your explanation is going to stick with me! Thank you Thomas. The other two things I’m going to do are this: first, with my iPhone, I’m turning on the rule of thirds grid. Next while editing in Lightroom and Photoshop, I’m going to figure out how to get my cropper to have those lines too.

    Thanks for this Thomas. You really showed me!

    Ann from Kremb de la Kremb

    • Thomas says:

      I’m glad you’re finding my posts so helpful. I try to make sure that anyone reading each article has something that they can immediately start working on to improve.

      If you want to see any other specific topics don’t hesitate to fill out the contact form.

  • Sara Jones says:

    I don’t read many blogs, except for yours and Julia’s. I absolutely love your advice!

  • Alden says:

    Most helpful blog post about blogging I’ve ever read! I keep this in mind now before taking/posting all of my photos.

  • Anna D Kart says:

    I’ve heard about that rule and try to use it in lifestyle and pretty pictures. But like you said in Outfit photos the main focus has to be on the girl with clothes on!

    Happy Medley

  • Ashley says:

    I was trying to explain the rule of thirds to someone the other day and I’m pretty sure they left more confused than when we started. What a great post for getting getting down to the nuts and bolts of it. I’ll be sure to pass this post along to them to clarify all the confusion i might have caused.

  • Herika says:

    I love your posts! All your tips are so very helpful and so easy to understand! Thanks for sharing your pearls of wisdom!

Leave a Reply