Composition – Rule of Thirds for Landscapes, Portraits, and All Visual Art

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Many do not realize it but where an image rests on a canvas is as important as how the image actually looks.  The act of placing an image correctly is the act of composing.  Good image placement is good composition.

Learning how to achieve good composition is essential any type of visual art–drawing, painting, photography, printmaking, design, etc.

Years ago, I discovered that when I step a few feet away from my work and when I squint my eyes, I can actually feel–can actually sense where and how I need to make changes.

First and foremost, the artist, designer, and/or photographer want their viewer’s eye to move completely throughout the canvas area.  The Rule of Thirds is a type of  “trick” in composition that both guides the viewer’s eye and provides desirable resting places for the canvas’s important data.  The following animation divides a canvas into the appropriate thirds; and it also shows how the viewer’s eye should be directed:

Rule of Thirds Animation
The Rule of Thirds Animation from Wikipedia
Rules of Composition & Eye Movement & Rule of Thirds Animation from Wikiped
Rules of Composition, Eye Movement & Rule of Thirds Animation from Wikipedia

“The ‘rule’ was developed in the mid-19th century, primarily as a guide for landscape artists, but was quickly adopted by photographers who spotted its value, first in landscape photography, then in other genres.

“Grid – When employing the rule of thirds the photographer mentally imposes a grid over a potential scene.  The grid is comprised of two vertical and two horizontal lines that divide the scene into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, or into nine squares…. The rule works on the basis that any continuous horizontal line running the width of the image, such as the horizon or a row of distant trees, has greater dynamism and interest if placed on one of the horizontal grid lines than if it were placed in the centre of the image.  Similarly, any strong vertical objects in the scene would be best placed on one of the two vertical lines.


Third Rule

Points of Interest – In addition to using horizontal and vertical lines as guides, it is also important to consider the four points at which the dividing lines cross–these are known as the points of interest or the points of power.  When composing a shot, try to ensure that principal elements in the scene are placed one one of more of these points of interest.  Doing so will ensure that focal points in your image are kept away from the centre of the picture and add interest to the image.  You don’t have to slavishly ensure that key points sit directly over points of interest–they are intended as guidelines only.


Portraits – Although the rule of thirds was devised primarily for landscape artists and photographers, it can also be used with other forms of photography.  In portrait photography, for example, it is best to avoid having the subject’s eyes run through the  centre of the photograph if shooting a close-up of someone’s head and shoulders.  Instead place them along the top horizontal line.


Similarly, if the portrait is a full-length shot, don’t place the subject in the centre of the frame.  instead, try placing him or her along one of the two vertical lines.” Steve Luck The Practical Illustrated Encyclopedia of Digital Photography, p. 50


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