The Rule Of Thirds: Most widely used Photography Composition Technique in Landscape Photography

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The Rule of Thirds is the most widely used photography composition technique in landscape photography because of its simplicity and ease of application. It is a no-brainer formula to produce compelling landscape images.

The Rule of Thirds is generally used along with other photography composition techniques like Leading Lines, Diagonal Lines, Framing, and Patterns. I will cover each of these topics in upcoming articles. Get it delivered straight to your inbox by subscribing.

We looked at the definition and why it is called as Rule of Thirds in this article. Now let us take a look at its specific usage in Landscape Photography.

Why Should You Compose a Photograph?

Consider that you set out to take a Sunrise photograph at an exotic beach. You got up early in the morning and rushed to the spot in the darkness.

First few splendid rays of the sunrise start to spill slowly. You are overwhelmed, you want to capture that moment before it is last forever. You setup your tripod and camera pointing towards the best possible light. Your heart is pounding every minute and brain is working even harder.

You click several photographs in succession before the sun becomes brighter and brighter with vanishing colors.

Now what? You come back to your room and then browse through those photographs…probably you are disappointed! because photograph is not showing what you actually saw there.

Why? There are two basic reasons:

  1. You did not enjoy the sunrise in the first place. You were busy clicking so many photographs that you did not really lived that moment

  2. You did not compose the photograph in a way which evokes the same feeling when you look at the photograph

Composing a photograph makes you stop, see, think, and then click.

How does the Rule of Thirds make Your photography Compelling?

Rule of Thirds gives you a framework to make your photograph compelling. It is important to understand that it is framework.

You have to use this framework to make your photograph compelling. What does that indicate? It is just a helper for you, nothing more nothing less.

Consider the same example. You are all set and you see the first rays of light filling up the sky with those splendid colors. You setup your tripod and camera pointing towards it.

But this time, you will compose the photograph before clicking. Meaning you will stop for a moment, see the sunrise with your own eyes to feel it, then think about how best can you represent the scene and then make a photograph.

As per the Rule of Thirds guideline, you will bring the horizon closer to either top third line or bottom third line.

Why should You put Horizon on either Top or Bottom Third

Because Rule of Thirds states it 🙂

It is common tendency that we place the horizon in the center! Before knowing this rule, most of my photographs were having horizon in the center..how about yours?

Horizon on the center makes a landscape photograph lifeless only if:

  • The sky (background) is plain blue or washed out. Which makes half of your photograph boring
  • The beach (foreground to middle ground) is too dark or does not have any interesting waves or interesting foreground. Which again makes half of your photography boring

By now, you realize what you should do to make your photograph interesting. I bet your have!

In simple words:

  • Place the horizon on or close to top third line, if the sky or background is boring
  • Place the horizon on or close to bottom third line, if the beach or foreground is boring

When to use Four Intersection Points in the Rule of Thirds?

As you are aware, it is recommended to place the main point of interest on one of the four intersection points as noted in The Rule of Thirds article.

It is very important to create depth in the landscape photographs to give a three-dimensional effect.

You can make use of sand stones or driftwood or some other interesting objects in the foreground to create depth in the photograph. If possible, place these interesting foreground elements on the intersection point!

Rule of thirds photography composition techniques in the landscape photography. A mirror lake in Blue Ridge Parkway near Ashville, North Carolina

A landscape photograph of a calm lake at the Sunset. The horizon of this landscape is close to the top third line making it off-centered and interesting.
To make this photo more interesting and to create the depth, I have included a rock in the foreground near the bottom right intersection point

Rule of thirds photography composition techniques in the landscape photography. Breathtaking Sunrise at Lake Superior near the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Park in Upper Peninsula, Michigan.

A landscape photograph of a beautiful Sunrise in Lake Superior. The horizon of this landscape is close to the top third line making it off-centered and interesting.
To make this photo more interesting and to create the depth, I have included a driftwood in the foreground near the bottom left intersection point

When to Break the Rule of Thirds?

You might already know the reason by now.

If foreground to middle ground is more interesting than the background then go ahead and break it.

Rule of thirds photography composition techniques in the landscape photography. Sunset and Sunrise photographs of beach in Lake Superior and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Park, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

In both these images, I break the rule of thirds by shifting the horizon way above the top third line to create more compelling images.
The sky in both images is not very interesting which dictates the composition to include more foreground. Which also indicates that the foreground has to be very interesting

Or, if the sun and the clouds are so very beautiful, that you cannot include so much in the foreground, then cut short the foreground!

If you find that both foreground and background are very interesting, you may want to include best of both and create more compelling photograph.

Rule of thirds photography composition techniques in the landscape photography. Indiana Sand Dunes Beach breaking the rule of the thirds

In this beach photograph from Indiana Sand Dunes, I have put the horizon very close to the center. Both the sand dunes and the beach grass in the foreground are as important as the sky and the clouds in the background which forces the beach or the middle ground towards the center

Conclusion

I hope I have convinced you enough to believe why the Rule of Thirds is most widely in the Landscape Photography. Haven’t I?

Now that you know, why it works and when it works, it is very easy for you to make a decision if you would like to use it or not.

However, remember the most important thing. Try to avoid clicking lot of photographs as you may miss one of the most beautiful and enlightening moment of your life. What is the point in trying to capture something extraordinary if you did not enjoy it in the first place?!

I have failed to enjoy the beautiful places and occasions many a times in hurriedness of capturing that one-time moment. But the funny thing is, my wife gets away with some of the beautiful moments by enjoying the Sunrises and the Sunsets!

I would love to listen to your experiences, thoughts and opinions…

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10 Responses to The Rule Of Thirds: Most widely used Photography Composition Technique in Landscape Photography

  1. Sudarshan January 18, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    Although, I’m an amateur, I really find this blog very informative.
    And loved the below which is very honest statement.

    What is the point in trying to capture something extraordinary if you did not enjoy it in the first place?!

    I have failed to enjoy the beautiful places and occasions many a times in hurriedness of capturing that one-time moment

    • Prathap January 18, 2014 at 8:57 am #

      Thanks a lot for wonderful comment Sudarshan. I am very glad that it was informative. Tune in…for more honest statements 🙂

  2. Prateet March 20, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    Hi Prathap,

    I loved each of the photograph published on this blog. I found them flawless.

    I am an amateur and need your help and guidance with landscape and bird photography. Please provide me with your email address. I am in Canada.

    Best Wishes,
    Prateet

  3. Roy August 6, 2014 at 3:34 am #

    I find your articles most informative and explicit in detail yet simple to follow. The guiding photographs really enhance your explanations.

    It is always a pleasure to read your articles and be able to refer back to them from time to time in order to put them in to practice.

    It is really a wonderful website. Thank you.

    • Prathap August 6, 2014 at 10:37 am #

      Thanks for your kind words! Roy. It’s my pleasure to share what I know in the simplest possible way. Thanks!

  4. Naheen August 24, 2015 at 5:46 am #

    Hi Prathap dada,

    Glad that I’ve come and amazed with your vivid description about all photography terms. It is awesome for both amateur and expert photographer.
    Thanks for your efforts.

    • Prathap August 25, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

      Thank you so much! Naheen.

  5. ameer January 11, 2016 at 10:04 pm #

    what a wonderful experience ,,
    can i follow you on facebook

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