You may have seen two similar images before, but for some reason you liked one of them more than the other. For reasons you couldn’t put your finger on. It’s very possible this had to do with the rule of thirds. For some reason the human mind finds images most pleasing when its subjects or regions are composed along imaginary lines that divide an image into thirds, both vertically and horizontally.
How To Use The Rule Of Thirds
When shooting a scene or a photo, imagine the lines shown in the above image. For some reason our minds enjoy when the subjects and other aspects of the image are along the lines or the intersections of these lines. Many cameras actually have options that you can turn on to show this grid, you just may have not known their purpose.
They do not have to be perfect, but the closer the better.You may need to move around to get a better composition. This may require more careful consideration when shooting, but this is a good habit to get into whether you are using the rule of thirds or not.
When shooting people your instinct may be to center them in the frame. I would encourage you to place them on either the right or left vertical line and place their eyes at the intersection of the top horizontal line (while maintaining proper nose/lead room).
When shooting landscapes, people usually place the horizon at the the center of the frame, however this gives the image a split-in-two feeling. Try placing the horizon on the lower or upper third and any other important aspect along the vertical and intersections.
The Golden Mean
This is what is working behind the scenes of the rule of thirds. Something found every where in nature. The seemingly subjective world of film and photography have a pretty solid basis in mathematics (just when you thought you wouldn’t have to math in film or photography).
The Golden Mean is defined by a mathematical sequence of numbers known as the Fibonacci sequence. The first two numbers are 0 and 1, and the remaining numbers are sums of the previous two.
1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89… and so on.
Illustrated these numbers create a spiral, a pattern that shows up repeatedly in nature. Being a part of nature ourselves, it makes sense that we would be attracted to this spiral.
In the image above the Fibonacci spiral is in black, and the rule of thirds is in pink. As you can see it lines up pretty well. I encourage you to look deeper into this spiral as to better understand why this all works.
Breaking The Rule
As with all rules (at least in composition), the rule of thirds doesn’t apply to absolutely every situation. And when you know what your doing, you can break it and still end up with amazing eye-catching images. Learn to use it before you start breaking it. Experiment with different compositions and find out what works for you!