Can You Break the Rule of Thirds?

Break the Rules of Thirds with symmetry

Although some elements lay on thirds, the focal point is dead center and the compelling aspect of the image is its symmetry.

Although a good launchpad to begin creating striking compositions, the Rule of Thirds is exactly that, only a beginning. Like the Pirate Code from Pirates of the Caribbean, the Rule of Thirds is more like a guideline than a hard and fast law. In fact, when the situation is right, it should be both bent or even broken. If every shot you captured put the subject exactly on a thirds intersection, eventually these “dynamic” shots would start to lose their flavor.

Allow me to loosen some of the mental knots I tied in The Rule of Thirds Delivers Justice to reveal how and when to throw out the Rule of Thirds.

Whether you employ or ignore the Rule of Thirds, do so on purpose. Composition should be intentional. Although happy mistakes happen, it’s important to communicate intentionally. Otherwise the result tends to be an ambiguous and overall weak image.

Bending the Rule

Added Gravity & Drama

Bend the Rule of Thirds to create extreme movementWhen you place your subject further from the center of the photo than the thirds lines, you are bending the Rule of the Thirds. Do this in order to force viewers to move their eyes to one extreme side of the photo. This adds a heightened sense of gravity and drama to the frame. However, be careful not to overuse this style in your shots or else viewers grow tired of being pulled around the frame.

In the specific example on the right, note that although I pulled the focal point, the lighthouse, below the lower horizontal third, I kept it more or less aligned to the vertical third line on the right. I could have cropped this as a horizontal image, leaving out the clouds and to making a “more correct” image according to the Rule of Thirds. However, my intention was to convey the steadfast, still, and quiet feeling I felt while gazing at the headlight in person. So, I kept the clouds above in order to give more space above the subject, creating a this grounded feel.

Breaking the Rule

Below are examples of three composition methods which break the Rules of Thirds. Each style produces compelling results if used effectively. When viewing each image, consider where the third lines fall and where the focal point lays.

I will cover the how-to’s of each one individually in future fundamental tips.

Symmetry

Symmetry is a good reason to ignore the rule of thirds

Detail Highlights

Break the rule of thirds to highlight details

Patterns

Break the rule of thirds to highlight patterns or repetition

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8 Responses to Can You Break the Rule of Thirds?

  1. Kris June 21, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    People swear by the Rule of Thirds, and I hadn’t paid much attention to it until reading about it in my camera manual (you can switch on a grid to help you compose accordingly). Recently I’ve read more about working around the rule of thirds rather than adhering to it. These are great examples.

    • Andrew June 21, 2011 at 8:22 am #

      I like writing these fundamental composition guides and am glad you benefited.
      You must have a Canon ya? I have a G12 and sometimes like to put the grid on as well.

      • Kris June 21, 2011 at 9:38 am #

        Actually, I have a Nikon D7000, an upgrade from my D80.

  2. Lori June 20, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    Oooh! Nice teaser at the end =). I’m excited to learn about symmetry, details, and patterns in your later articles!

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