How to Use the Law of Thirds in Framing a Good Photo Shot

The law of thirds is a useful device to aid the photographer in coming up with a good framing for a photo shoot. It is based on an old principle of design that has remained valid throughout the ages. Pay attention to how television cameramen frame the total picture on your television screen and you will notice how the principle of the law of thirds is observed by professional photographers.

The law of thirds divides the canvas into nine equal rectangles by superimposing two equally-spaced imaginary horizontal and vertical lines on the frame. The resulting image will provide for four points where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect. These points are said to be the highest points of interest in the photograph. This means that the most important objects in your photograph, the things that you want your viewers to focus on, should fall or be centered on or situated near these points.

The principle of the law of thirds likewise implies that the four imaginary lines traversing the frame serve as the areas where the main subjects of your photographs should be placed. On a portrait photograph, for example, you can achieve a more interesting result if you place the eyes of the subject at the level of the upper horizontal line near the right hand vertical line of the imaginary grid.

To take a portrait shot of a tall building, make sure that facade follows the left vertical line while the ground levels structures traverse along the lower horizontal line. The principle could be reversed by placing the tall building along the right hand vertical line and the ground level structures positioned on the left hand side along the lower horizontal line of the superimposed grid.

In framing a landscape shot, the same principle should be observed by placing the objects that you want to highlight along the points and lines of interest based on the imaginary grid. You may at times have an opportunity to take a landscape shot that includes the horizon, the point at which the earth and the sky meet.

Positioning the horizon along the upper or lower horizontal line will make for a more interesting shot. In the same vein, you could include a tree in your photograph by placing it either along the left or right vertical line with the top of the tree falling near where the top horizontal and one of the vertical lines meet.

Of course if there are fixed objects in your subject, you cannot move them to satisfy the principles of the law of thirds. In such cases, you only need to approximate the locations of the objects that you want to highlight on your photograph by observing the general law of thirds relationship among their locations.

To help you practice framing with the law of thirds, you can focus your eyes on a specific location around you and try to imagine a grid of two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines superimposed on the image. Then imagine how you should move things around to achieve a good enough arrangement of the different objects in the image using the principle of the law of thirds.

Modern digital cameras have an option to show the law of third lines on the camera's screen. This option is a very useful tool that you can use to help you compose a good shot with your camera. If you own a digital camera with this feature, make sure that you turn it on whenever you want to snap a photograph. Then place the subject at or near where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect and align the other objects along the horizontal and vertical lines in your canvas.

The important point to remember really is not the correct placement of the objects in your photograph but to maintain the law of thirds relationship among the objects that are included in the image. The law of thirds is not designed to make your photograph look good although it may help. It is an aid to help you place your subject where it will receive the most focus and to achieve a good balance in the placement of the objects included in the picture. It points out how a principle of good visual design can be applied to the taking of photographs.

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