Photography Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is the most often quoted rule in photography, so is it ever okay to break it? In this video, I say yes, explain the rule, and illustrate with examples.

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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Julie from Ultimate Photo Tips, and if you've ever wondered whether you should you always follow this often-quoted rule, or if it's okay to break it sometimes, then today's tip is for you.

First of all, what is the rule all about? Here's an example of it:

photography rule of thirds
© Julie Waterhouse Photography

If you were to draw a tic-tac-toe grid over your image, the photography rule of thirds suggests that you place your subject at the intersection of the grid lines. For this photo, the key point of interest is the bird's eye, and it's at the thirds position.

Before we start talking about breaking this rule, I think it's a good idea to understand why the rule exists in the first place.

In English, the word "important" is a synonym for "central." Our human instinct is always to place our subject -- what's important to us -- in the center. The problem is that central placement of the subject can look "static" because it puts the image perfectly in balance, with no pull toward any one edge of the frame more than another.

By following the rule of thirds, we push our subject off-center, and therefore make the image a little bit off-balance. This can be a good thing because it gives some energy to the image, and moves the viewer's eye around more.

So, back to our original question: should you always follow the rule? I say "no." I'm always an advocate of designing your images so that they best tell your story. What if stability is your story? Take a look at the next image:

breaking the photography rule of thirds
© Julie Waterhouse Photography
Breaking the Rule!

Here, my story is about stability amidst chaos. By breaking the photography rule of thirds, and placing the tree stump centrally, I have actually strengthened my message.

Another example of when breaking the rule might work to strengthen your story is placing your horizon in the centre of the frame when you have a perfect reflection. That will make your scene look tranquil, and emphasize the balance in the image.

So, next time you go to take a photograph, think about what you want your story to be. If it's all about stability or calm, then try placing your subject in the center. If you want to have a more dynamic image, then follow the rule of thirds. And if you want to throw your viewer even more off balance, place your subject even closer to the edge of the frame, which creates more tension.

For more great photo tips, come on over to, and be sure to sign up for my newsletter where I give you tips and tidbits you won't get anywhere else.

Happy shooting, and I'll see you next time!

Learn even more about the photography rule of thirds in our composition section.

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