The Rule of Thirds and Beyond
The rule of thirds is probably a rule most photographers have heard of and use it as their primary source of composition. This is sad because there is so much more to composition than just this rule.
The rule of thirds is basically nothing more than a grid with two vertical and two horizontal lines forming four intersection points (golden points) within a square or rectangle. When a photographer puts his subject into one of these golden points that photographer has successfully performed the rule of thirds.
I know many pro photographers, photo contest judges and very talented amateurs that eat drink and sleep with the rule of thirds. In fact I personally know a contest judge that confided with me that if you don’t use the rule of thirds he’ll deduct points from your entry. This means that you’ll never win if you don’t follow this rule!
Perhaps one of the most overused and over taught element of composition for photography is the rule of thirds. Because of the static and non dynamic nature of the horizontal and vertical lines this rule can be quickly boring and make for a predictably uninteresting composition.
I may be a little extreme with all of this but trust me; the love for the rule of thirds is real. In its defense there is possibly no better method for beginning photographers to get their subject unstuck from the middle and create a more interesting composition. Not that shooting in the middle is always bad; in fact many times shooting in the middle can be the best way to capture your image. Overusing an element of composition or shooting the same way (like always in the middle) can quickly become tiresome and dull nevertheless.
John Thomas Smith has been credited with first writing about and describing the use of the rule of thirds in 1797. Please note that this is centuries after many painting and sculpting masters had studied and produced their works of art.
Skills grow on the basis of understanding not ignorance.
Artistic skill is not genetic or a divine gift nor is it learned through faithful copying.
If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.
Many of the painting masters spent years in a school studying composition before they even drew a line on the canvas. There is so much more to composition than what I’ve written about previously. The methods I’ve mentioned before are effective techniques for an immediate improvement to your photography not a mastery.
Master painters such as Picasso, Michelangelo, and Di Vinci studied for years before their art became serious. Their studies included extensive study and mastery through understanding very structured geometric systems.
To study in depth at a level only known by the painting masters one would have to study much more in depth, dedicate their lives and spend numerous years learning their craft. This in depth composition is heavily composed of geometry, trigonometry, edge flicker, color, dynamic symmetry, gamut, figure to ground, simultaneous contrast, gamut area of contrast, enclosure, aerial perspective, gazing direction and so much more.
The takeaway from this is to always search for and learn new composition techniques. Use the previous mentioned elements of composition to make an immediate improvement on your photography. Once in awhile one might get lucky and capture a winning photo and of course only with years of practice, learning and study can you guarantee an increase with the mastery of your composition skills and luck.