Fun Photography Project: Rule of Thirds – Use It & Lose It

Kent DuFault
Kent DuFault

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NOTE: This is a photography project taken from the Action Cards set. For more, take a look here – Learn Photography Through Projects

Total Time: 3-5 Hours

Skill Points:

  • Creating visual tension through subject placement
  • Analyzing the potential for the Rule of Thirds
  • Becoming proficient at knowing when not to use the rule

"The most recognized composition rule out there..."

The Rule of Thirds is the most recognized composition rule out there for photographers. Divide the area of the frame into equal sections – do this by mentally drawing two lines vertically and two lines horizontally at 1/3 increments, leaving an imaginary grid with nine blocks and four intersections.

Key Lesson: This rule states that when the subject is placed upon one of the intersections, created by the Rule of Thirds grid, it creates a visual tension that makes the photograph more interesting. Don’t absorb this as a firm rule. Learn to use it, and then learn when your image is more interesting without it.

Study the photographs below to understand it better.

Woman & Landscape

This image is a typical use of the Rule of Thirds. The subject is placed near an intersection of two lines. The woman is placed in that position, which helps to establish her as the subject. It would be typical to place the horizon line on one of the two horizontal lines, which divides the shot using the 1/3 – 2/3 Rule. In this case, the photographer did not.

Diver & Sharks - Original

This is a pretty interesting photographic opportunity. However, the shot lacks impact due to the placement of the diver. The Rule of Thirds can definitely help this image.

Rule of Thirds Overlaid

In some situations, (like this one), you may not have options with the framing in-camera. Something happens, and you take the shot. In post-production, you can improve the image by applying the Rule of Thirds using the Crop Tool. This crop places the diver onto the one of the intersections. It also places one of the sharks on the upper left intersection, which also happens to be the direction of the diver’s gaze. All of these changes strengthen the shot.

Rule of Thirds Crop

Here is the cropped ‘final’ version after applying the Rule of Thirds. Compare it to the first version.

Action Assignment

  1. Spend 1.5 hours taking pictures, consciously apply the Rule of Thirds (in-camera) while taking your shots. (Think of the woman & landscape.)
  2.  Spend 1.5 hours taking pictures, create two versions of each shot: one applying the Rule of Thirds and one breaking the rule.
  3. Go through your existing photos and select 5 that you believe could be improved by cropping to the Rule of Thirds (think of the diver & sharks). Crop the photos and print out both versions to compare them.

How Did You Do?

  • Were you able to pre-visualize, and compose, using the Rule of Thirds in-camera? Check your composition with a Rule of Thirds crop tool overlay (in your post-production software). Was your placement correct?
  • Were you able to create successful images that broke the Rule of Thirds effectively?
  • Were you able to improve your 5 photos by cropping to the Rule of Thirds?

BONUS: I've got something special for you on the next page...

The above content is taken from our hugely popular Action Cards – printable project sheets that will give you over 200 photography assignments, covering everything you can imagine. You can see the Complete Photography Action Card collection below:

If you enjoyed the above assignment and would like to know more about this project-based photography learning tool, do take a look at the Action Cards here.

Click below now, to read about it on the next page…

About Kent DuFault

About Kent DuFault

Kent DuFault became a photographer in September of 1974. He took a “Basic Photography” class in high school and was hooked for life. His best-selling product, The Printable Action Cards have helped thousands of photographers worldwide learn photography through a unique, project-based learning system.

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Great question! is an online photography school with a focus on simple, practical tips and tutorials, for beginners.

Since 2012, we’ve grown to a small team of photography enthusiasts from all over the world, teaching over 200,000 students from 180 countries. No matter where your current skill level is, we’d like to help you explore your unique creative side, through photography!

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