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Learn to Take Beautiful Photographs using the Rule of Thirds

Updated on March 24, 2017

My Personal Photographs

Death of a Wave
Death of a Wave
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Bodega Bay - Safe at Home
Bodega Bay - Safe at Home
Sea hair
Sea hair

My Relationship with Photography

I love taking photographs. Next to writing, it is my favorite hobby. I cannot draw, paint, sew or knit. I don't scrapbook, make music, or carve sculptures. I just take pretty pictures. When I look at my photos, I feel a sense of satisfaction and joy that I was there, and able to create a perfect moment in time out of the living, changing world. I consider myself an artist, to a certain degree. There is a special folder on my computer called My Art Pics, and only the great ones go into my personal collection.

Because it takes so many shots (roughly 1 in 10 for me) to get a photo worth my special folder, I am ever so grateful for the advent of digital photography. Without the restraint of limited resources on hand (film) and the cost of traditional developing, I am free to snap pictures to my heart's content. I don't take pictures of just anything, but I do take as many shots as necessary to get it perfect when I do pick a subject. My favorite subjects are landscapes, architecture, still lifes, animals, and when done artistically, people.

I took a black and white photography class in high school for two years in a row. I loved it so much that I practically viewed the world in black and white for years afterwards, imagining and superimposing the stark and beautiful contrast of B&W onto everything that I saw. We learned how to mix chemicals and develop our own pictures in the class darkroom. It was very magical watching the picture appear on a white sheet of photo paper while laying in a tray of developer. The photography teacher gave me a press pass to the school football games and I had a few pictures published in our yearbook. I was so proud, and these experiences forever hooked me on photography.

Nowadays, I stick to color. Every photoshop program out there will turn a color shot into a B&W for you on a whim. The technological advances in photography just in the last 10 years have come so fast and are so exciting, its hard for me to keep up. By the time you study the manual for one camera, its already out of date and the next one is waiting to be bought. Makes me wonder what will be available in another 10 years when my kids are out of the house and I can throw some real money into this hobby of mine.

My Personal Photographs

Sundail Bridge
Sundail Bridge
Sundail Bridge with rule of thirds and leading lines applied.
Sundail Bridge with rule of thirds and leading lines applied.
Devil's Fart
Devil's Fart
Volcano blowhole
Volcano blowhole

The Rule of Thirds, "Bullseyes", and Leading Lines

The old saying that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is so true. I take pictures of things that I feel are beautiful and try to present them in a way so that others will think they are beautiful too. There are two parts to learning photography. The technological part, and the art of photography. Learning the technological side of photography is now the easy part. The camera can make all the choices for you. What you can't produce in life you can probably manipulate into being on your computer later. Learning the art of photography is the hard part unless it flows from you naturally like it does for me. If it comes from your heart, you know when you got the shot you were looking for. Personally, I prefer to capture the shot perfectly on site, with maybe only a little cropping to make it look balanced if necessary, and I stay away from altering the original image with computer tricks.

So, as promised, there is a way to easily accomplish great pictures, which you can learn in a few seconds. While I was in photography class I learned a valuable rule of thumb for sighting shots that can help anyone make a mediocre shot into an awesome one. It's called the rule of thirds.

To help you with a visual representation of this concept I drew red lines on my picture of the Sundial Bridge as an example. These lines divide the picture into thirds, much like a tic-tac-toe board. The rule of thirds basically says to place things you want to capture on or near the horizontal or vertical lines that divide up the picture. For instance, my horizon is at the bottom third line. My bridge structure is on the left hand third line. Notice how the picture feels balanced and in proportion? This works really well for things that are already in a general line form, like the edge of a building, roads, trees, etc.

The next thing to consider is the circles where the lines cross. You should think of these as your new bullseyes. If you are still putting your main subject smack in the middle of your pictures, this new concept is immediately going to make your pictures more interesting. These four circles are points where the eye falls naturally, so putting your subject, or secondary subject in any of these four locations will make it pop out to the viewer. You don't have to make it exact; close is fine. Notice the tip of the tower is near one and the point where the tower and bridge platform meet is near one.

The last new concept to consider is called "leading lines". Leading lines do just that. They lead your eye into, or out of the picture. They literally tell your eyes where to go. I drew three leading lines on the picture so you could see (this is a great pic for demonstrating this, you usually will only have one or two per pic). There is one leading line formed by the bridge's platform, and two on the bridge's cable's. You could say all of the cable's are leading, but I just picked the two that are the most dramatic. Leading lines also give a picture depth and perspective that makes them more interesting because it feels more life-like.

Go Ahead, Impress Yourself!

From now on, if you can mentally superimpose the tic-tac-toe "rule of thirds" graph on every shot you eyeball, you will be able to create some of the most beautiful and dramatic pictures you have ever shot on purpose. Everyone can come up with a great photograph once in a while and not be able to put their finger on why it is so great. Once you learn how to successfully implement this tactic, you will feel like a pro with almost every shot.

There are so many places to go, people to see, and things to do on this earth that with photography, the possibilities for capturing the beauty of it all is endless. One of my favorite photographers is Ansel Adams. He photographed Yosemite National Park long before color film, and way before the invention of the rule of thirds. He saw and instinctively knew how to capture the essence of nature like no one else. He is still to this day one of the most celebrated photographers of all time. I often wonder how many shots it took him to get that perfect one in a million. I wonder how much money he spent on film and chemicals back in his day. I wonder if he'd had a digital camera what he would have been able to create that was never captured because he ran out of film! I found a link to some facts and sources if you would like to know more about him. I can only hope that my photos will be great like his, in some small way. In the meantime, I sure enjoy trying.

© 2009 Willow Mattox


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    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      2 years ago from USA

      This is an excellent tutorial about taking better photographs. I bring my camera with me everywhere I go. I'll snap a photo of just about anything. I enjoy capturing nature as I find it. And now, I will use your tips to help frame them better for more enjoyment.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Mrs. Obvious,

      Loved this hub. Fantastic writing talent.

      I worked for 23 years in the weekly newspaper business.

      Taking photos and developing film and prints were my favorite jobs.

      Write me soon.

      I am honored to follow you. I invite you to do the same.

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 

      4 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Great tips! I love taking pictures with both my camera and my phone (as I rarely have my camera with me LOL) I will definitely be using your rule of thirds from now on.

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 

      10 years ago from Washington MI

      Excellent writing on this topic. I learned something from your hub about how to take better photos. The pictures you presented are really quite good.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I enjoyed your prospective of taking pictures. Now if I can remember to do that.


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