composing beyond the thirds

From the earliest days in any photographer’s education they are encouraged to follow the ‘rule of thirds’. Simply put, the rule dictates that elements of interest (eg subject, horizons etc) should be positioned on imaginary lines that divide the image into thirds. This is widely accepted as a rule that helps create stronger compositions, and one that regularly comes up in critiques and educational feedback.

It is my own view that the underlying mechanics of this ‘rule’ helps create balance in an image. It makes sense to me that positioning a visually strong (heavy) subject on a third allows the space of the remaining 2/3 for other elements to add their own weight, and hence may well balance to the composition. Alternatively, placement of a horizon in such a way may disrupt balance, resulting on emphasis of foreground or sky.

But I believe that by applying this ‘rule’ wholesale can lead to predictable images, many of which falling short of reaching their full potential. We neither want nor expect each composition to be similar, so why should we be driven to follow such a ‘one-size-fits-all’ rule?

I suggest that we view the 1/3 ‘rule’ purely as a guide when preparing an image, adjusting from there as desired to fulfill our artistic vision.

So forget about those thirds as being the rule, think of them instead as being a helpful starting point to what is the greater rule, the rule of BALANCE.