Many photographers have been taught, or learned independently, that to compose excellent images they must follow various rules. Maybe, the most common is the rule-of-thirds. This is a perfectly reasonable technique, especially during the photography learning process. Too often, however, photographers allow themselves to be dominated by this rule, and many others. They fail to understand that once they learn the rule and demonstrate they can compose with it, they are then qualified to “break” it, to “color outside the lines.”
The first secret escape from the rule-of-thirds is to free your mind to position the primary object or subject of your photo according to its size, shape and other characteristics. Some objects simply belong in the center of the frame because of what they are. Making this decision should be the first step when composing an image, not at which of the crossing points of the rule-of-thirds grid it should be positioned. Apply the rule-of-thirds because it makes sense in relation to the object or subject, not because the rule has you chained to the wall in the cellar.
Creating a sense of balance in your photos is another means to escape from the rule-of-thirds. When you are composing an image with multiple objects/subjects, it is more important that their relationship is in balance than where they are located within the frame.
When you apply the rule-of-thirds too faithfully, the result is often an image with too many extraneous elements or too much background area, both of which overwhelm the primary object or subject. Your means of escape is to create simpler compositions. Move closer or use a lens with a longer focal length to create a tight framing of the object. This eliminates the unnecessary elements and/or background, so there is no question what is the object of your photo. In many cases, a tighter framing, or closer view of an object, reveals more of the details, which makes it more interesting.
Compose with lines to unshackle yourself from the rule-of-thirds. Diagonal lines, in particular, if positioned creatively, will give any photo a more dynamic feel. Lines help you control how viewers look at your photos. Lines that appear to start outside the frame guides their eyes into the composition, and then a diagonal line or series of lines direct them into the center and towards the back, tricking the mind into seeing three dimensions on a two-dimensional plane.
You’ll be truly free of the rule-of-thirds, or the domination of any other rule, when you take the time to photograph an object or subject in different positions, from multiple angles and with different lighting configurations. Don’t simply place the object at a rule-of-thirds point within the frame, shoot it and tell yourself that there is no other way to compose a photo of that object. Explore and experiment. They are the methods that will help you discover the artist in you, not hard-and-fast rules.
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It’s not that rules were made to be broken, but to serve as the basic stage of learning. If you find that the rule-of-thirds is dominating your compositional thinking, then it’s time to break those bonds. Don’t discard the rule-of-thirds, or any other basic photo-composition technique you’ve learned. Instead, give yourself the freedom to advance your knowledge.
In some cases, knowing how to use bokeh is a better “rule” than the rule-of-thirds. You’ll be able to blur the background to make it a pleasing element of a photo and help the primary object or subject to pop from the image.
Image credit: ruxpriencdiam / 123RF Stock Photo
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