IT WASN'T YOUR GRANDPA
Possibly the easiest rule to learn and maybe the most effective. The rule of thirds is used worldwide by most photographers and creates a natural position when placing your subject. But where did this rule come from? Hold on to your hat because its been around longer then you might think.
Don't miss out on future posts like this one ─ subscribe to Pixxbee | The Photographer's Blog.
In past articles I have wrote about the rule of thirds and how you should use it so this time I would like to talk about the origin of where this rule came since it is such an important rule among many photographers.
The Rule of Thirds is a visual composition that is pleasing to the eye when you position your subject to intersect an imaginary set of lines. These imaginary lines divide the frame into equal thirds, both horizontally and vertically. The logic behind this rule is that the human eye will naturally gravitate to the four intersecting points that these lines create. This is the prime spot you should place objects when you frame up.
Think of the rule of thirds as a tic-tac-toe grid. If you are shooting a landscape then you should be putting the horizon at either the top third or the bottom third line. This is a generic example and can be more complex but you should get the idea.
Anyway, the Rule of Thirds was all figured out by an 18th century painter and writer named John Thomas Smith. He was fascinated by how the eye is satisfied by such composition.
Smith lived in London from 1766 to 1833 and went by the name of Antiquity Smith. In 1797, Smith wrote a book called Remarks on Rural Scenery that covers various features and specific cottage scenery. A chapter in his book called "Of Light and Shade," he discusses a piece by Rembrandt called The Cradle in which two thirds of the picture are in a shadow. Smith writes, "Two distinct, equal lights, should never appear in the same picture: One should be principal and the rest sub-ordinate, both in dimension and degree: Unequal parts and gradations lead to attention easily from part to part, while parts of equal appearance hold it awkwardly suspended as if unable to determine which of those parts is to be considered as the subordinate."
Smith goes on to elaborate more about shadow and light and then he sets the rule in stone:
"Analogous to this 'Rule of Thirds' (if I may be allowed to so call it) I have presumed to think that, in connecting or in breaking the various lines of a picture, it would likewise be a good rule to do it, in general, by a similar scheme of proportion; for example, in a design of landscape, to determine the sky at about two-thirds; or else at about one-third, so that material objects might occupy the other two: again, two thirds of one element, (as of water) to one third of another element (as of land); and then both together to make but one third of the picture, of which the other two thirds should go for the sky and aerial perspectives. This rule would likewise apply in breaking a length of wall, or any other too great continuation of line that it may be found necessary to break by crossing or hiding it with some other object: In short, in applying this invention, generally speaking, to any other case of light, shade, form or color, I have found the ratio of about two thirds to one third, or of one to two a much better and more harmonizing proportion, than the precise formal half, the too-far-extending four-fifths and in short, then any other proportion whatever."
So there it is, pretty much the way we would define the Rule of Thirds today. Just keep in mind that while Smith did call it a "rule" a complete reading of his book would indicate that it's best described as a rule of thumb.