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How-to's

Why the rule of thirds in photography?

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)


Keywords: basics, composition, technique, theory

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We have been taught that the optimal position of a subject in a frame is when it follows the rule of thirds, that is, it is more pleasing to look at it when placed at any of the intersections of the frame divided into three sections, both horizontally and vertically, as marked by circles in the sample frame below:

20140113_100428_picture1.jpg

 

For the sake of illustration, the image below is an example of what is not the recommended placement, the “smack in the center” position horizontally and too high vertically:

20140113_100428_picture2.jpg

Fellow Nikonian Jon Bloom (jbloom)

 

And what is considered as preferable is this:

20140113_100428_picture3.jpg

Fellow Nikonian Richard Hulbert (rhulbert)

 

WHY RULES OF THIRD?

It was not until 2003 that I became intrigued with Fibonacci, as a consequence of Dan Brown’s best seller “The Da Vinci Code”, later made into a most entertaining well-made movie.

20140113_100428_picture4.jpg

 

I only had vague memories of Fibonacci’s work and the famous Fibonacci series, so I went on to research on him.

Fibonacci was born Leonardo Pisano, in Pisa, Italy, around 1170. His father was a very successful merchant, Guglielmo Bonacci. “Son of Bonacci” in Italian is “filius Bonacci” which was degenerated into Fibonacci.

His father sent him to North Africa (Algiers) to manage their trading post in the Mediterranean. There he befriended Moor, Hindu, Persian, Egyptian and Arab merchants, traders and scholars from whom he learned great knowledge that later expanded on his own.

His first hand written book “Liber Abaci” (1202) is a book on the Hindu-Arabic numeral system (that we all use today, as opposed to the Roman system), arithmetic, geometry, and algebra; with practical applications. This and other five books made him to be known today as the top mathematician of the middle ages.

 

THE FIBONACCI SERIES

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, etc., is the series where each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two. Known to Hindu mathematicians since the 6th century, however Fibonacci as a problem solver did show how to use it to calculate the growth of a rabbit population over time. Today it is used in cryptology, computing and many other fields.

 

THE FIBONACCI SERIES IN NATURE

Building a rectangle using the Fibonacci series numbers as adding square blocks, it would look like this:

20140113_100428_picture5.jpg

 

And drawing a curve that starts at the first number square in the series, a spiral comes out with a shape that can be found in the arrangement of flower heads and in the shell of the chambered nautilus.

20140113_100428_picture6.jpg

 

The number of petals in many flowers, and stems in trees are all in Fibonacci series numbers. Furthermore, it seems to be ever present in nature, from atomic and ionic bond lengths, to quasi-crystals, to galaxies.

 

(16 Votes )
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Originally written on January 13, 2014

Last updated on January 24, 2021

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
Admin, 45983 posts

22 comments

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on November 1, 2017

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Frederick, I will place some samples for you in the A Picture I Took forum tomorrow morning, Nov 2.

Frederick W. Ming (optimist13) on October 29, 2017

Thank you for this article. I would be grateful if you (or another) could give a few more examples of compositional applications. Thanks Fred

Agli Olio (AgliOlio) on May 19, 2015

Happened to bump into this mind blowing article! Cool!

Andrew McDonald (AndyMac) on January 17, 2014

It's OK. I can take it and I learned a lot on that trip. :)

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs) on January 17, 2014

One of the two c-founders, expert in several areas Awarded for his valuable Nikon product reviews at the Resources

This topic cannot be repeated often enough Ramón. Thanks for sharing this. Also love the thumbnail for this article on the homepage :)

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 16, 2014

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

I didn't want to bring that up, Andy ;-)

Andrew McDonald (AndyMac) on January 16, 2014

JRP, I was referring to the fact that I took them. I still remember the presentation you did. You pulled up the Rick picture as an example of good use of Rule of Thirds and I got all happy. Then you pulled up the image of Jon and I got all embarrassed.

David Clemmer (AMusingFool) on January 16, 2014

To get absurdly into Fibonacci's series: http://www.fq.math.ca/

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 16, 2014

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Phillip, It is easier than one may think at first. Let's take this on at the forums.

User on January 15, 2014

Examples: [imglink:420488] and [imglink:420487] Both taken at 11mm to get entire church and the entire original part in the picture.

User on January 15, 2014

Not for Ghoulish reasons, but for Family Tree items (another interest on Mine). I Take Photos of churches associated with the deceased relatives, Grave stones Markers. If using the Rule of 3's how does one get the Whole of the Front or back of the Church in the field of view If not taken dead center on, although I have a 10-24mm Lens for my camera. At really wide angles such as 10-11mm just taking a Frontal Shot causes Perspective Issues example keystoning if the least bit below the church, and if straight on either the center or the edges appear to be closer.

Mathew Bunnell (trek) on January 15, 2014

It does not matter how much I think I know. I'm always humbled how much I don't. You guys amaze me!

Jim Troxell (FFN) on January 15, 2014

Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017-2018

Yet another great article from JRP. Thank you for your contributions and sharing of your knowledge.

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 13, 2014

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Yes, Andy. Those images were made at the the Smoky Mountains National Park in South Tennessee and North Carolina, ANPAT 6th ;-)

Andrew McDonald (AndyMac) on January 13, 2014

To clarify since I can't edit, I was talking about the images of Jon and Rick.

Andrew McDonald (AndyMac) on January 13, 2014

Gee, those photos look familiar. Both the good and the bad. :)

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 13, 2014

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

George, thank you. Yes, photography is quite challenging and remains to be no matter how much we may think we learn. That makes it always interesting and delightful, even when at times frustrating ;-)

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 13, 2014

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Egbert, thank you. Indeed Euclid discovered the golden cut because of its crucial role in the construction of the pentagram. This has been accounted by now in several well document books by reputable authors. For example "The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number" also published in 2003, by Mario Livio, then senior astrophysicist and the Head of the Office of Public Outreach at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, MD.

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 13, 2014

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Jacques, merci. France indeed has many constructions that follow the Divine Proportion, for example Notre Dame de Paris cathedral. Furthermore, contemporary street photographers, like Henri Cartier Bresson ('father' of photojournalism) can be considered as making frequent and extensive use of the rule.

George Butterfield (Gbutterf1) on January 13, 2014

Thanks for a very interesting topic, composition has and continues to be one of my biggest challenges, that and light, speed, focus, lens choice, etc,etc.

Egbert M. Reinhold (Ineluki) on January 13, 2014

Thank you for the story. I have to add that Euclid found this rule. It was he who described the golden cut in the year 300 b.c. But the rule is even older but Euclid was the first seeing this in a pentagram.

Jacques Pochoy (archivue) on January 13, 2014

As for Architecture, the red and blue rules of "Le Corbusier" (or "Corbs"), follow exactly the 1.618 and 0,618 ratios respectfully... :-) Further testings, when asked to divide a segment non symmetrically, most people set up to a 1/3d ratio, which in french is called "tiercer" (divide by three), and most renaissance architecture as common farms buildings often have doors and windows proportions set by the one third ratio... :-) As all rules, they are meant to be overridden, If there is a good reason to it... As with DoF, it is often a mean to "disturb" the viewer and pinpoint a given situation of the subject !

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