Rule of Thirds -- when to break it?

batmura

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When taking photos, how much attention to pay to the rule of thirds? How important is it to you? Do you generally feel your photography benefits from it or do you just follow it because it is what most amateur and professional photographers advise on forums, websites, books, and articles?

Also, if you are generally a proponent of this compositional rule, do you feel there can be instances when it is necessary to break it? What would these instances be?

Finally, what are your views on "compositional rules" in general? Do you feel some rules are followed blindly by the masses despite not adding any aesthetic value to images in your eyes?
 

Trever1t

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First of all understand it dates back over 2000 years, was it a Greek scholar that identified the mathematical principals to pleasant esthetics? Golden rule, spiral, etc. All rules are made for breaking...it's understanding the rule completely that gives one the freedom. ;)
 

ceeboy14

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Break it every chance you get...really. It was never meant to be a hard and fast rule but rather a guideline. A good example is a Slow to 25 on a mountain road. For a Mini driver, that's just an invitation to see if you can take it at 50 (which normally I can, and normally do). The sign is meant for novice drivers or those who drive like old ladies. You should compose to how your eyes composes the scene. There are some rules that should be adhered to (again, in most instances) like not putting your horizon line dead center or your point of focus dead center but in most cases, I think it is almost a natural POV not to fall into that visual trap. My opinion.
 

Trever1t

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Ceeboy it may be natural for you but look at all the new photographer's images here and you'll see just that, horizon or subject in the middle of the frame.
 

tirediron

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Strive for compositions that you find appealing. There are no more rules about when to break the 'rules' then there are when to use them, and I would estimate that my compositions probably tend to follow the basic tenents of "good composition" most of the time. In short, if it feels or looks 'right' then it probably is.
 

Benco

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The rule of thirds is a useful composing trick that I'll usually try but sometimes it just doesn't work, if adhering to it produces big dead areas, unbalanced composition, unwanted elements and so on then that's when I break the 'rule'.
 
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ceeboy14

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I should have continued with saying for novice photographers by all means adhere to the rules until you reach a level of compositional comfort...and I sort of did by saying some rules should always be adhered to...well, mostly. I see a lot of 2,500 + posters on here who still have that problem.
 

Derrel

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Composition is about, "Finding or creating the most effective means of utilizing the space." On natural-world scenes, one can "find" the best composition by moving the camera up, down, sideways, back, forth, and using different lenses, and so on. On user-created compositions, such as still life photos, or catalog photos, and so on, the photographer "creates" the composition in another manner. Composition involves using the elements and principles of design. The elements and principles of design are the things that compositions are built with. Line, shape, mass,texture, hue, value, repetition, dissonance, harmony--those kinds of things are what I think about. Some pictures are about shapes. Some photos are built around strong lines. Some photos show relationships between things of widely differing mass; for example, a child placed next to a giant redwood tree's base--that is a photo that uses widely differing "mass" as a building block. Grand, towering views of El Capitan convey mass by way of foreground forests of tall coniferous trees, which are absolutely dwarfed by the sheer height of the monolith.

"The rule of thirds" is in no way any type of a rule. It's sort of a modern cheat-sheet type of device that's been elevated wayyyyyyy beyond its usefulness. It has in fact, led to legions of unstudied shooters positioning people precisely 1/3 of the way off to one side of horizontal shots, and thinking that they are creating "interest", or God forbid, "a good picture".

There truly are NO rules in composition. I have said that repeatedly for years. There. Are. No. Rules. There are no absolutes. There are no shortcuts. There are no "cheats". Composition involves using the elements and principles of design, in an effective way. GOOD composition uses the elements and principles of design in a highly-effective manner.

If one wishes to learn more about how to compose pictures, search for "elements and principles of design", and look into what the real fundamentals are.
 

Overread

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The "Rule of 3rds" is but one single compositional concept in a sea of MANY. It's one of the most popular because its simple to each the basic concept and its got a catchy name. There are many theories - leading lines - golden spiral - rule of thirds - patterns - brightness values etc....

The key is to get yourself as broad an understanding as you can and to also gain a degree of depth of each method. Once you understand better how and why a theory works you can then understand when its best to use it and also when its best to "break" it (although half the time you "break" one theory, you are just making use of others).

Photography, like art, is not about blind following of single theories; but rather combining and using different ones to gain creative results.
 

vintagesnaps

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The rule of thirds like many things seems to be getting perpetuated all over the internet but as others have said it's just one concept related to composition.

You could try searching Elements of composition in art and that should give you some resources about line, shape, texture, space, tone (value), color, and space. I think composition takes time to learn about and be able to use in your photos.
 

Gavjenks

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I would like to say that it's a gimmick. However, of all of my photos that end up being my favorites, about 90% of them are ones that adhere to the rule of thirds (while also having other things going for them of course), despite me only taking like 50-60% of my photos as rule of thirds photos.

The other 10% are symmetrical situations where a center composition makes more sense, and the lines reflected on either side create the interesting shapes and space rather than subject placement.

I do not have a single, centered, but not symmetrical subject in a photo that I consider one of my best, as far as I can remember. So IMO, there's a lot going for this "rule."

That said, pretty much anything that isn't dead centered could be sort of interpreted as being 1/3 away from SOMETHING, so it covers a pretty broad range of compositions, some of which might be really bad, some good.

So I'd say it's almost always a good idea, BUT it by itself isn't really giving you a ton of constraints to work from, either. So you still need lots of other compositional intuition and tricks on top of that.
 

ShooterJ

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I would like to say that it's a gimmick. However, of all of my photos that end up being my favorites, about 90% of them are ones that adhere to the rule of thirds (while also having other things going for them of course), despite me only taking like 50-60% of my photos as rule of thirds photos.

The other 10% are symmetrical situations where a center composition makes more sense, and the lines reflected on either side create the interesting shapes and space rather than subject placement.

I do not have a single, centered, but not symmetrical subject in a photo that I consider one of my best, as far as I can remember. So IMO, there's a lot going for this "rule."

That said, pretty much anything that isn't dead centered could be sort of interpreted as being 1/3 away from SOMETHING, so it covers a pretty broad range of compositions, some of which might be really bad, some good.

So I'd say it's almost always a good idea, BUT it by itself isn't really giving you a ton of constraints to work from, either. So you still need lots of other compositional intuition and tricks on top of that.

Agreed.. we're encouraged in class to use as many compositional elements as we can in photography. The rule of thirds is one, but we also use leading lines, shapes, symmetry, depth of field, repeated objects/patterns, etc.. the more interesting compositional elements you can place in a photo, the better.. assuming you're using what works for the shot.
 

cgipson1

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Break it when it works... otherwise don't! ;)
 

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