Photo Composition: Rule of Thirds

Arranging Before You Shoot and Editing After You Shoot

Figure 1
Figure 1

Composition or composing the picture before you shoot could be considered a form of editing. This article applies to both shooting technique underwater and things to look for while editing after the shooting is done. Lots of people can tell a well composed picture from a poorly composed picture. They just say “This one “looks” better!” even if they can’t say why. It’s part of the way humans view the world. Part of it is in our training while growing up, (there are cultural differences) and part of it, is the way our brain and eyes work together to reproduce the images from the world around us. Some arrangements of the elements in a photo or scene just look more pleasing or natural than others.

Figure 2
Figure 2

One of the rules of composition that nearly everyone agrees on is “the rule of thirds.” I say “nearly everyone” because one of the great photographers of all times, Ansel Adams, said, “The so-called rules of composition are in my mind, invalid, irrelevant and immaterial.” (Quote found in Rick Sammon’s Complete Guide to Digital Photography). But, for the rest of us, we need a few helpful guidelines to improve our chances of getting good photos.

The Rule of Thirds works like this. Divide the picture into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, so it looks like a “tic-tac-toe” game. See Figure 1. The four intersections of those lines are where your subject or points of interest should be placed in the frame. Obviously, it’s occasionally difficult to get your subject or subjects exactly on those precise points. The idea is to get them at least close to those intersecting points. Figures 2 & 3 are examples of the rule of thirds in use. The Schoolmaster next to the Purple Sea Fan in Figure 4 looks static and rather ho-hum. The fish is square in the middle of the image, helping to create the un-dynamic static feeling about the image. You’ll also notice that in fig 2 & 3 that the subject elements are in opposite corners of the frame. This creates a diagonal line for the eye to follow in the image. Diagonal is good, straight up and down, and straight across is usually not. An exception to the “diagonal is good rule,” is the horizon line. Generally speaking, the horizon line should be on or near the upper or lower thirds line.

Figfure 3
Figfure 3

You can improve images during the editing process by cropping them either digitally or before printing from film or slides. Look for the rule of thirds while looking through your images after the dive. Look to see if cropping (cutting off) some of the image would improve it and simplify it. Sometimes very aggressive cropping of an image can produce great results. Look to see what other images are hiding in your pictures. Play with the potential options.

Figure 4
Figure 4