Composition in photography is the art of visually presenting the contents of a photograph in a form and pattern that is pleasing to the human eye. Artists have long ago worked out that the human eye usually follows a pattern when looking at a picture, starting about two-thirds up the picture, and usually traveling in a zig zag from left to right, and that the eye is naturally drawn to certain things such as straight lines, eyes, and the brightest area of the picture.
Because the natural starting point is at a point about two-thirds up a picture, the natural progression was to divide the picture up into an imaginary grid with horizontal thirds and vertical thirds.
This gave rise to the Rule of Thirds, where elements are placed within the thirds either horizontally or vertically, with the key visual elements being place on the points where the lines intersect each other, known as the “Power Points”.
At its most basic the rule of thirds would dictate that we can use the grid to place parts of the image, for example here we have used the grid to place the foreground, middle ground and background along the horizontal lines, with the figure on a vertical with two-thirds of the image in front of them to give a sense of traveling across the picture.
If we look at this picture of Pulpit Rock on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, we can see how the Rule Of Thirds has been applied to it. The horizon lies roughly on the top horizontal third, giving the rocks and water two-thirds of the scene and allowing them to dominate.
The main feature of the image, the actual “Pulpit” has been placed on the top right Power Point, where it forms a focal point to the image, highlighted by the strong visual “lead in lines” made by the rocks and waves that lead the eye to this point.
A final element is the bright patch in the sky behind the Pulpit that also helps to naturally draw the eye to that area.
Here, in a totally different kind of shot of a model taken in a studio. Although the subject matter photographed and the style of the image could not be more different from our picture of Pulpit Rock the composition is almost identical.
The model’s head and eyes are the point of focus and lie roughly on the top right Power Point, whilst her bottom lies on the bottom right, her feet on the bottom left and a strong diagonal line that runs up her arms to her head, helping to draw the viewers eyes to hers.
The rule of thirds is a good guideline to start with, and can help you achieve better composition, but as the saying goes “rules were made to be broken”. It’s just knowing when to break them!