It’s Expo time again at the Leslie household. Expo ranks right up there with root canals and income taxes on my list of painful experiences to avoid. For those of you who are not so unfortunate to have a child in the Rio Rancho Public Schools (please note: I am not bashing RRPS. I just HATE Expo), Expo is the name for our local science fair, which actually isn’t all that local because it feeds into the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Oh, and in case you’re wondering I’m not a Luddite and I don’t hate science, either. I actually have enough college credits for a degree in Geology; I just opted not to torture myself with Calculus, Trig and Organic Chemistry, and decided that a single major was good enough.
There’s just nothing like a science project that involves those nifty project boards AND 17 pages of forms that are apparently written in Greek that must be completed and signed by parents when your student isn’t actually old enough to compete in the ISEF. But I guess they figure we parents need training so they start torturing us in middle school. And I am blessed to have TWO middle school students this year.
Yep, that means TWO Expo projects. One of the projects involved burning quantities of sugar. Other than making the house stink, it was actually kind of interesting. But not so interesting that I’ll be wanting to repeat it. However, we still have to analyze the data and lay out the project board, so maybe I’ll wax philosophic on that one another day (and I’ll tell you the easy way to get burned sugar off the pan). Ok, so it was a project on the carmelization of sugar, but it really did involve burning the sugar by the end of the project. Nasty.
Yesterday’s project was much more up my alley. One of my big objections to Expo is there is no equivalent for our students of the arts. We don’t have the “Reflections” program here or any big school-sponsored competitions for art students. I realize that the idea that one can make a living in the arts is apparently as crazy today as it was when I was a kid and used to tell my mom I was going to grow up and be a writer. Her response was always, “But what do you plan to do for a real job?” But I digress.
So, I’m thinking you’re wondering what this little rant has to do with the title of this post. After all, it doesn’t say anything about Expo. But there is a connection. Really. My youngest decided that for her project she would study the rule of thirds in professional photography. I did not pick this project. She is the only one of my kids who wants to be a “ma-tographer” when she grows up (I think that was her word for mom-photographer when she was little). Her interest is in wildlife and animal photography. We shall see. I think it’s cool.
So, since I’ve spent the last few weeks teaching her the rule of thirds and analyzing dozens of well-known photographs with her, I believe I am now prepared to share it with all of you, so you can improve your photography skills as well.
Just as an FYI, 96% of the photographs she analyzed employed the rule of thirds in their composition. So, for those of you who think it’s just some silly rule, it really isn’t.
So, what is the rule of thirds?
The rule of thirds visually divides your photograph into a grid–like a tic-tac-toe board, though there is also a triangular version–and says that you place your main points of interest either on one of the intersections or along one of the lines, rather than place it in the middle of a photograph. This doesn’t just apply to photography. It’s a universal rule applied to paintings and other design work as well. It’s probably one of the most elementary rules of photographic composition, certainly one of the first I learned. Well, that and keep the horizon straight so all the water doesn’t run out of the ocean.
When you place your subject dead center in the photograph, it generally creates a very static composition. Nature is not inherently symmetrical and so we find compostions that are not perfectly symmetrical to be more pleasing to the eye. Placing your composition along these imaginary lines creates a sense of motion and interest in photographs.
And, no, it’s not a hard and fast rule. There are certainly times to break it, but before you can break it and do it well, it helps to understand it.
So, here are a few examples–these are all from my photo library, since we don’t hold with breaking copyright laws here and publishing other photographers’ work without their permission.
So, now your assignment for today is to go out and look at some of your favorite photographs and see how well they follow the rule of thirds. I will admit that I was surprised that the percentage of published photographs was as high as it was. Oh, and this does also apply to portraits, too.
Here’s a random grab from my hard drive. You’ll notice that the eyes fall in the upper left and the line of the body goes down the left line. This isn’t something I consciously think about when making photographs any more, but that may just be that I’ve been doing it so long. At one time I did have a camera that had the grid in its viewfinder. Many cameras do have this feature and it’s a great help when you’re starting out.
And once you’ve got this down, then we can talk about the Golden Mean which is a related principle and even cooler once you start seeing how it works in your art. But we’ll save that one for another day.