“Wizard’s Third Rule..Passion rules reason, for better or for worse.” ― Terry Goodkind

One of the first rules of Composition I was taught was the Rule of Thirds. What exactly is this and why does it exist? It proposes that an image should be divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Basically into 9 equal parts. Then important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. It is proposed that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject.

To be honest I have never been good at following Rules, I believe that rules are meant to be broken. It has been said you can’t overuse the Rule of Thirds, but using this rule does not always ensure a dynamic composition. It is a great starting point for beginners and it is simple and easy to use. However we need to use it mindfully and look beyond the rule of thirds. Some images work because of their balance and other images work because of their tension. There is no definitive or correct answer.

This composition is not dependent on the subjects sitting on the crosshairs of my rule of thirds. There are other elements that make this image dynamic and give it unity. There is a natural contrast of black subjects against a white backdrop. The proximity of my subjects is used in contrast to the negative space on the left. This image also uses many diagonal lines, the leading lines of the stairs to draw the eye to the subjects. For me composition is an intuitive process.

This image is the famous Bernini’s staircase Scala Regia or Royal Stairs inside the Vatican. It is a wonderful example of the Fibonacci Sequence, which is another variation of the Rule of Thirds.  The diagonal lines of the steps create strong leading lines,  my eye also follows the curve of the staircase down to my subject. It is all about analysing the image to see what works. Does the composition draw your eye to your subject or are there distractions?

In this image the subject is almost centred, but there are leading lines as well as invisible line of sight that makes this composition more dynamic. So, I say don’t be a slave to the rule of Thirds or any rules for that matter, instead be mindful of the many elements of composition, analyse what works and what doesn’t work. Cropping may be used to fine tune a good image, but will not save a bad one.


Any thoughts?