Rule of Thirds Explained

Varvara May 05 2022

With the rule of thirds, pictures in photography can be made more harmonious and thus more attractive. Let’s talk about the effect and use of the rule of thirds in your photography.

What is the rule of thirds?

If you want to make a photo look nicer or adjust an image section so that it looks more aesthetic, you can use the rule of thirds.

This is a design rule from photography that is based on the theory of proportions of the golden ratio. The picture is mentally divided by two horizontal and two vertical lines and thus divided into nine equal parts.

With the rule of thirds, you divide the image into 9 equal parts by simply drawing 4 lines across the image. Two lines run horizontally, each 1/3 of the image height from the top and bottom edge of the image. Two lines run vertically, each 1/3 from the left and from the right edge of the picture.

If you place striking objects in the picture, such as the lamp in the middle of the picture above, then pictures often appear static and boring. But if you move these objects out of the middle of the picture, the pictures become more interesting.

However, it's easier to create images according to the rule of thirds than by using the rule of the golden ratio.

Effect of the rule of thirds

People often photograph motifs in such a way that they are exactly in the center of the picture. This usually happens unconsciously, because you want to be sure that EVERYTHING can really be seen in the photo. 

However, objects in the center often do not look particularly original and are often dismissed as boring, even though the recording is flawless from a technical point of view.

The rule of thirds can help. Roughly speaking, it is a simple alternative to the golden section, which can be used to make the image section in a photo more exciting and interesting. 

Image composition based on the rule of thirds

As with the golden section, the main object should be placed at the intersection points or along the imaginary lines.

In order to create tension in the picture, this rule can also be consciously broken. Nevertheless, it is helpful, especially for the beginner, to deal with this rule.

You can also use this structure for portraits of people. For portraits, also make sure you focus correctly. As a rule, the focus is on the eyes - more precisely, on the eye that is closer to the camera.

How to apply the rule of thirds

The horizon

If you are a fan of clouds, you may use the rule of thirds to show the top 2/3 of the sky. This also has the advantage that you don't pack too much into one picture. A nice example is the picture above, where the horizon is exactly at the bottom 1/3 line.

Using two or more lines

If you have 2 lines to position: so much the better! Again, the picture with the lamp above serves as a good example. The 1st line is the horizon, which was placed on the lower third line. The 2nd line is the lamp placed on the right third line.


Besides the lines, photographers also like to use the intersections of these lines to position objects. Personally, I like the upper two intersections better, although that is of course a matter of taste. Make sure to always base your pictures on one of these rule of thirds intersections.

But it doesn't matter if the image doesn't quite fit. Use the rule of thirds as a guide for dividing up your images. Photography is creative, and following the rules doesn't necessarily encourage creativity.

Focus off-center

A camera's best and most autofocus points are usually in the center of the image.

Of course, for something like the rule of thirds, that is not good. Try to switch to AF point and can then actually tell the camera whether you want to focus on the left or right line of the rule of thirds. It works great!

If you can't do that with your camera, you can just focus on the subject you want, i.e. press the shutter button lightly. Then you move the camera slightly – so that it just fits – and release the shutter.

How to edit images using the rule of thirds

Image editing programs such as Photoshop or Lightroom offer the possibility to display different design grids. Adobe Lightroom, a very popular and recommendable program for image management and image editing, offers not only the golden section, the rule of thirds, but also other design grids such as diagonal, triangle, golden spiral... This way you can easily check the image structure or pay attention to the design grid when editing.

Depending on the image structure and motif, photos can often be adapted to a design grid afterward. However, for this, it is important that you do not select the image detail too narrowly so that you have the appropriate freedom when cropping the image. Of course, the result also depends on the subject. Experimentation pays off.