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Photographic Composition: Rule of Thirds, Framing, Leading Lines, Horizons..

Composition is about arranging the elements of a scene to convey information simply or to evoke a mood or emotion. Every photographer, whether amateur or professional, has his/her own way of composing a particular picture/scene. But there are some rules which will definitely help you take well-balanced and interesting shots.

While composing some of the early shots, a budding photographer is struck with a number of questions –

  1. How exactly a viewer’s eye moves within a particular picture?
  2. What can I do to hold the viewer’s attention in my pictures?
  3. Should I always keep the subject of interest in the centre while composing a shot?
  4. How to treat horizons?

Rule of Thirds

This is one basic rule, which gives answers to almost all the above mentioned questions. The “Rule of Thirds” is one of the first things that budding digital photographers learn about in classes on photographic composition.

The “Rule of Thirds” encourages you to imagine breaking an image into thirds (both horizontally as well as vertically) so that you have an image broken into 9 parts as shown below.

fig1: Rule of Thirds

At the time of composing a shot, you can either do this in your mind, or enable GRIDS on your Camera’s viewfinder (almost all DSLRs support this). Enabling it on your viewfinder makes it a lot more easier to compose balanced shots.

fig 2: Rule of Thirds

Positioning the ‘Subject’

According to the ‘Rule of Thirds’, in order to click well balanced shots, you should try to position the subject/points of interest along one of the intersection points. All the elements in the image can be arranged near to one of the intersection points or one of the four grid lines.

A number of studies have shown that when viewing images, viewer’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally rather than the center of the shot.


Framing is one of the most useful and easy-to-implement techniques to direct a viewer’s eye to the subject/points of interest within an image, and that too naturally. Just as a picture frame covers an image, you need to search for frame-like shapes or elements within the scene you are about to capture. This helps in making your subject stand-out, look obvious and will certainly catch viewer’s eye almost immediately. Check out the images below for more understanding. You will easily identify the entrance door used as a frame to capture the majestic Taj, or a series of doors to capture the policeman standing at the other end.

fig 3: Framing

Leading Lines

Leading lines are lines in the image that lead the viewer’s eye in a certain direction, as if you are a guide to the viewer. If you try and place/capture a line in a photo, the viewer’s eye is drawn to it and tends to follow the course that the line takes. Leading lines can be anything starting from dividing lines on the road, streak of lines in the sky made by a plane or even a rainbow. Viewers tend to immediately spot such lines in a image and follow it through.

fig 4: Leading Lines

How to treat Horizons?

The extension of “Rule of Thirds” can be applied here. In case of landscape photography, its always suggested to place the horizon along one of the horizontal lines of the grid (fig. 1). Depending upon the shot that you want to capture, you can either select the upper horizontal line or the lower horizontal line to place the horizon.

If the colors of the sky is what you plan to capture in your shot and emphasize, then place the horizon along the lower horizontal line, as it will allow you to capture more of the sky. If the color of the sea is your points of interest, then place the horizon along the upper horizontal line.

fig 5: How to treat Horizons?

But please do remember, there are no fixed rules in photography. You may break the so-called “Rule of Thirds” and still come up with striking photographs; but as they say, its always beneficial to know the rule in detail before breaking it.

MyFirstPic Viewpoint:

Hence, we suggest you to first practice the “Rule of Thirds” to create some stunning photographs before experimenting with purposefully breaking the rule to see what you discover.



One thought on “Photographic Composition: Rule of Thirds, Framing, Leading Lines, Horizons..

  1. Beautifully elaborated and compared! Now I know why most of my pictures fail to produce a ‘WOW effect’ on the face of its audience!

    Thanks for sharing!!

    Posted by Uruj | October 9, 2011, 4:32 pm

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