The Rule of Thirds

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Beginners in any graphic medium, from watercolor to photography or design, tend to make basic composition mistakes. While rules are there to be broken, one should have at least a basic understanding of them; only then can you break a rule successfully and make it work.

The foundation of the so-called “Rule of Thirds” is the “Golden Ratio”. Without getting into too much detail, the “Golden Ratio” is a mathematical theorem the outcome of which is commonly accepted to partition a picture in a visually pleasing way. It is based on a Fibonacci sequence.

In short, it is assumed that important items in a picture or painting should be placed in the picture along certain lines which represent a fraction of the total length on each side. The factors are 0.618 and 0.382, respectively. What that means is: if there were an invisible horizontal line drawn through a picture that is 1,000 pixels high, it would be drawn at 618 pixels from the top/382 from the bottom:

rule of thirds golden ratio

The simplified version of this is the “Rule of Thirds”:

rule of thirds golden ratio

If you divide up each side into thirds and draw lines horizontally and vertically through the picture, the above grid is what you get. The “Xs” are placed at the intersections of the lines, and it is commonly accepted that this is where you should place your most important subjects/items. This holds for photographs the same way as for brochures.

In Western cultures, people read from left to right, so the way the eye wanders through a document or picture is from top left to bottom right, in general.

rule of thirds golden ratio

Therefore, along those sight lines is where you want to place your most important content, and how you place things will help your reader or viewer navigate through your picture or document.

rule of thirds golden ratio

In practice, it might look something like this. Notice how the balloon and clouds are exactly on the main intersections on the left. You could argue here that the rocket could have been put farther towards the top right.

hidden for layout purposes