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The Rule of Thirds
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The Rule of Thirds

Taking the time to find a pleasing and effective placement for your main subject is crucial to the success of your travel photographs. One method that artists have been using for centuries is the rule of thirds. It involves mentally dividing the viewfinder frame into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. The four lines and four intersections of these lines can then be used as invisible guidelines to help you find the most dynamic subject placements.

By locating a subject at one of the four intersections—as opposed to nailing it squarely in the center of the frame, for example—you give it added emphasis. The technique works well with all subjects but is particularly effective when you are photographing a relatively small subject surrounded by a large expanse of space or against a plain background. The visual weight of your subject balances the vast emptiness. A sailboat on a calm sea centered in the frame appears stagnant and overwhelmed by its surroundings, but if it is placed at a thirds intersection, its position fulfills our need for a dynamic visual tension.

You can also use thirds to help organize and support secondary subjects by setting them at diagonally opposite intersections—for example, placing a lone oak tree (the main subject) at the lower left juncture and the rising full moon (a secondary subject) diagonally opposite and above at the upper right intersection. Again, balance and dynamics.

Thirds divisions can also help you decide where to place the horizon. If you place it along one of the two frame divisions, you have a quick and effective shortcut for deciding how to arrange the composition. Imagine, for instance, that you're photographing a Caribbean beach scene that includes sand, sea, and sky. Placing the horizon at the upper line gives the sky one third of the frame and the foreground two thirds, accenting the beach and water. Conversely, placing it along the bottom division line accents the sky by giving it two thirds of the frame. You can use the same principle whether you're shooting horizontally or vertically.

Next: "Lines"