Take Better Pictures Using the Rule of Thirds and Lines

Written by Erin Summerill, author of Clickologie

Rule of Thirds

            The rule of thirds is an artistic technique that separates your image into three segments horizontally and then three segments vertically, resulting in nine equal sections. Adopted centuries ago by brilliant artists, the rule of thirds has become a practiced guideline today.

I’ve found that the rule of thirds gives my images a sense of energy and flow, which in turn adds more life to my subject. Remember, the subject is the star of your image. Using the rule of thirds can enhance the best features of your subject.

So let’s get to the nitty-gritty of using the rule of thirds.

From the equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines, your image is divided into nine equal rectangles. Place the most important parts of the image along the horizontal or vertical lines. To make your image even more powerful, place your subject at the intersections of the lines, which are often called power points.

If you’re shooting with the rule of thirds in mind, your subject won’t fall in the dead center of your image, and your horizon line—typically the horizontal line that cuts across the background of your image—won’t cut across the middle of your picture.

Using the rule of thirds can give your image more visual appeal and interest, which is always a plus. I use the technique often, but I also like to break the rules occasionally.

Homework: Practice shooting a landscape with the rule of thirds in mind, and then capture the same landscape without keeping to the rule of thirds guidelines. See which way you like better.

Tip: When I’m shooting head shots, I find the image is often visually appealing when the subject’s eyes line up with the top line of the rule of thirds.

Homework: Practice capturing the faces of your family or friends. Take each headshot with the person’s eyes lined up along the top line of the rule of thirds. Then take a head shot of each subject with his or her face in the dead center of the image. Which do you like better? Why? 


Leading Lines

            A leading line lays the path for your eyes to follow. It directs you to the most important element of a photo or moves the viewer’s attention so far inward that it reaches a vanishing point. Leading lines can start at the bottom or in the foreground of a frame and draw the eye upwards towards the background to the subject, or they can run from one corner to another.

            Use leading lines to draw attention to your subject. Though roads and paths are usually the easiest leading lines to access and can always be used to make a great shot, you can find other leading lines all around you.

Consider using these objects as leading lines:

  • Fences
  • Trees
  • Bushes
  • Walls
  • Sharp changes in the landscape
  • Windows
  • Rivers
  • Beaches
  • Doorways
  • Repeating objects (like lamps in a park)
  • Bridges

As you explore various settings, be careful. A few years back I was asked to take pictures on some old, abandoned train tracks. I liked the idea of the leading lines and went ahead with the photo shoot. Luckily, those tracks were abandoned, but now that I’ve seen quite a few accidents involving kids on train tracks, I want to stress the perils of taking portraits anywhere that might be dangerous. If it’s dangerous, don’t do it! A portrait on train tracks isn’t worth the risk. (Besides, that look is old hat—find something new.)

Look all around you. Make the world your playground as you search for lines to use in your images. It’s up to you to find creative elements. Start in your own home.

HOMEWORK: In the room you’re currently sitting, standing, or hanging out in, look for three spots with lines that could be used as leading lines in an image. If you have your camera with you, take pictures of those three spots.