Basic composition rule: Follow the “Rule of Thirds” to get a more pleasing photo.

Day Six: “Solitude” — The Rule of Thirds

Today, let’s capture solitude: the state of being alone, or a lonely and uninhabited place. What does this word look like to you?

Find inspiration in this shot of a lone girl sitting in the sand at Lanikai Beach in Oahu, Hawaii:

Today’s Tip: Pay attention to the placement of your subject. As you frame your shot, consider the Rule of Thirds, which is a great introductory lesson in composition. Divide your shot into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, so you get nine parts:

Place your subject at the intersections of these lines (or along them) to create a dynamic, off-center composition.

Day Six: “Solitude” — The Rule of Thirds

When composing your solitude shot, think about the placement of your subject. Use the Rule of Thirds to place the subject in your frame, ideally at one of the intersections of these lines, or somewhere along them. In today’s beach image, the placement of the girl near the bottom-right doesn’t exactly follow this rule, but the grid is used as a guide to create an interesting composition — her aloneness is amplified by the open space to the left. This off-center placement also aligns with how our eyes naturally interact with images.

Your camera likely has the option to display this grid in your viewfinder or LCD screen, which can assist you in placing your subject.

Remember, also, that rules are meant to be bent and broken, especially since every image is different. Experiment with this grid as you frame your solitary subject, but it doesn’t have to dictate how you compose your final shot!

Image via Shutterstock.

Placing your subject a bit off-center can have a few benefits for your photos:

  • It adds context. The viewer gets more detail, and a better sense of how the subject relates to the surroundings.
  • It hints at motion (and emotion). Putting the subject off-center adds drama and interest. It can create the appearance that your subject is either coming or going; in the case of a person or animal, it may suggest that they’re looking forward or back. By creating a fuller scene, you invite viewers into the story.
  • It gives the viewer’s eye more to do. Rather than just looking at a center point and being done with it, an off-center photo invites us to explore — to follow the sight line of the deer, for example, as in the photo above.

A slightly different application also does a world of good for landscape photography:

Photo courtesy Michelle W.
Photo courtesy Michelle W.

In this case, I used the Rule of Thirds to think about placement of the lone boat and the horizon. We tend to put the horizon line in the center of photos. Splitting the scene into thirds — two-thirds sky, one-third water — helped produce the ethereal but moody image I was after.

(This image also serves as photo proof that I don’t always put my subjects in the bottom left of photos… just most of the time.)

Here are a few great examples of the “Rule of Thirds”:
Works vertically too!
This is a special learning series: “Learning Basic Photo Skills”, and this was Day 6 of 10. Make sure you follow this blog the rest of this week for more great information.

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