What is it about the rule of thirds that is so aesthetically right?
For balance and symmetry, few artistic guidelines are as clear, straightforward and understandable as the rule of thirds. As rules go, it is highly visual, satisfyingly geometrical and accessible. If you feel hemmed in by rules, think of it as just a good idea, a guide or a hack. The fact is, it works.
There is something about thirds that is deeply meaningful and impactful for most of us. The human eye has evolved to discern pattern and, perhaps more importantly, changes in pattern. The power of the rule is in its effectiveness at helping visual artists leverage this insight about how we read an image to sharpen the viewer’s understanding of the image and help him or her interpret the artist’s theme, storytelling or artistic statement.
How it works
The rule of thirds breaks any image into thirds with two vertical and two horizontal lines that deconstruct any visual into nine equal parts. When we organize the image with changes in pattern, texture, subject or action along those vertical or horizontal lines, we help our viewer recognize and interact with the distinctive characteristics of the image.
When we place what we consider to be the most essential component of our composition at the intersection of the lines – represented here by the blue dots – we optimize the power of the image for its inherent artistic value and for viewers who are viewing our work. Knowing this and integrating it into my compositional workflow when I learned it early and often in graphic design courses and photography and film work has made all the difference. I apply the rule of thirds at one time or another in my composition of any image. I don’t always select it, but I consider it and it always helps me evaluate a scene.
This week’s image both follows the rule and breaks it. In Schooner Mary E. Running North Near Lyme, I composed the image in thirds: the sea in the bottom third, the land through which the Mary E. appears to be sailing in the center third, and sky in the upper third. So far, I have followed the vertical rule of thirds, but not completely.
I could have placed the Mary E. at either intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines. I shot those versions but decided the action closer to center focused more attention on the phenomenon of the schooner apparently sailing on land.
Spoiler Alert: In fact, the land we see between the water and the schooner is a narrow island in the middle of the channel. Mary E. is sailing up the larger waterway on the other side.
View my Shoreline Collection and please stop by my Gallery Shop to consider a special series of signed and numbered limited-edition prints for the collector. A miniature print of a tall ship would make a wonderful gift for yourself or a thoughtful surprise for a friend.