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The Total Beginner’s Guide To The Rule Of Thirds

Peter M April 10, 2024 · 5 min read

If you’re in any type of creative field, you’ve probably heard about the ‘Rule of Thirds’. It’s mostly photographers who are familiar with this principle, but it’s a useful idea for all sorts of design situations. In this article, we’ll give you a quick rundown on the rule of thirds and how you can use it to your advantage. Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

The objective of the rule of thirds is simple: it’s meant to help you achieve more balanced and harmonious images when designing images or taking pictures. The best way to understand it as follows: the next time you’re looking through your camera’s viewfinder, or opening up a new document in Photoshop – imagine the image divided up into three sections by two horizontal and two vertical guidelines. The idea is that items of interest are best placed on the intersection of those guidelines.

The rule in use

While the rule is a popular tool among photographers, its use is widespread in the world of graphic design. Composition is an art, and science, that many of us have to deal with when playing with various elements on a blank canvas.
demandwIn this comprehensive article on proportions and web design, Smashing Magazine shows how a site’s main content blocks are placed in two of the four Rule of Thirds intersections.
Rule_of_ThirdsSome of the landing pages in the Creative Market website place important pieces of content in two of these strategic intersections. For a live example, check out our Fonts category page.

Where does the rule come from?

The reason behind the Rule of Thirds goes back all the way to ancient Greek and the days of the Renaissance. Ever since then, visual artists have known that the human eye is drawn towards imagery that is composed according to such rules. Symmetry is an important component of design harmony, but if an image is too balanced or too similar in both the left half and right half, the audience may find it dull or boring.
Instead, placing items that you wish to draw attention on the abovementioned lines of intersection, even if it first seems counterintuitive, will leave you with more beautiful imagery. If you’re in any doubt, the next time you’re watching a movie, pay attention to the way Hollywood cinematographers compose their shots. Even if it’s something as simple as a close up of someone talking, the person’s eyes or head will often be placed along the lines as divided by the rule of thirds.

How can I use the Rule of Thirds?

Let’s take a look at some examples. Below is a photo with poor composition according to the rule of thirds. There’s too much empty space, and the image’s key elements aren’t sitting close enough to the lines of intersection, resulting in a picture that just feels ‘off’:
Now let’s take a look at the same image, but this time if it were composed with the rule of thirds in mind:
Here are a few more examples:
The Rule of Thirds is by no means an exact science. As you can see, a photo still needs to be created keeping all aspects like exposure, color, light, pattern and subject matter in mind as well. The Rule of Thirds is just a helpful tip that will get you to better photos faster.
Pro tip: If you want to easily visualize Rule of Thirds divisions and intersections, create a custom Photoshop grid that you can show or hide as needed. Simply go to Photoshop → Preferences → Guides, Grid & Slices, and set the following values for your grid:
Rule of Thirds Photoshop Grid

Rules can be broken

So there you have it, everything you wanted to know about the Rule of Thirds but were afraid to ask. Whether you’re taking a photo for Instagram or laying out a webpage, consider the rule of thirds and we’re sure your results will be pleasing to your eye, and your audience’s.
One last thing: it’s called a “rule†for a reason. And rules, as always, are meant to be broken. Once you’ve learned the basics of this classic design principle, there’s no reason why you need to stick to it slavishly every time. Feel free to improvise or try something new, design-wise if the occasion calls for it.
Are there any other design principles you like to follow? Let us know in the comments.

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Peter M
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