Lesson 52: The Rule of Thirds Revisited

We talked about the Rule of Thirds very early on in Lesson 2.  In that lesson, we talked about framing a dog or a person and placing the intersection of the rule of thirds grid on the subject’s eye.  However, there are lots of ways to apply the rule of thirds.

Today, let’s talk about landscape scenes.  Landscapes are usually divided between sky and ground or sky and water.  To apply the rule of thirds to big sweeping scenes, you can make a simple choice:  is the scene more about the sky or the stuff below it?

If it’s about the sky, make two-thirds of the frame sky.  If it’s about what’s below it, make the sky one-third of the frame.

Here is an example of a landscape photo where I split the sky and sea about down the middle of the frame. I did this on purpose.  I wanted both rocks, the bird, and the water washing back to sea over the sand.  There was no way to apply the rule of thirds and get all of these elements into the frame the way I wanted them.  I happen to like this photo (sorry, it’s not an iPhone photo, but it makes the point).  I’ve also included two cropped versions that put the line between the sea and sky at the lower ⅓ of the frame.  In this case, I prefer to break the rule of thirds.

On the same beach, I took the following shot of a bunch of seagulls rising off the beach.  I was pretty far away when this happened, but I liked the breadth of the flock of seagulls (for all you old enough to remember, no, I’m not referring to the band).  I also like the expanse of beach underneath them with an almost equal expanse of sky.  However, I thought we should try this with the rule of thirds applied, so I cropped with ⅔ of the frame beach and another with ⅔ of the frame sky.  I think the one with ⅔ of the frame sky works rather nicely with the gulls taking off.

The next example splits the sky and land about ½ way.  This one is an iPhone photo, by the way.  I’ve cropped the photo to show ⅔ sky and again to show ⅔ land.  I prefer the one with ⅔ land in this case.  The sky is not particularly interesting or well exposed.  The land is a bit dark, but the bridge in the foreground adds more interest to my eye than the sky in the previous version.

My final example, another iPhone photo, is one where the rule of thirds was perhaps over-applied in the original photo.  The foreground rock starts at the ⅓ point on the left.  The mountains in the middle of the frame end at the ⅔ point on the right.  It’s almost too stripe-y.  I cropped this one very slightly to put the mountains at the ⅔ point on the left side of the frame.  To me, the first version confuses my eye as to which element the photo is supposed to be about.  The second version makes it obvious to me that the photo is about the river valley and surrounding mountains.  I would prefer if the barge were further in the frame, but somethings can’t be fixed.

Your Assignment:  Take a look at any landscape photos you’ve taken with a strong horizontal line.  Is that line at ⅓ or ⅔ of the frame?  If not, try cropping the photo just to see if you like it better (Snapseed provides a nice cropping tool–see Lesson 41).  Sometimes you will.  Sometimes you won’t.  Just remember that the rule of thirds can help you emphasize the part of the scene that you most want to draw the eye to.

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