Monday, March 1, 2010

Capture the Moment… The Rule of Thirds

I am thrilled to be writing a monthly article, Capture the Moment…, for My Memories Suite.  The article will focus on one photography tip each month and will be posted on the My Memories Suite Blog on the 1st of each month. Without photos, scrapbooking would be nonexistent.  As the core element of our layouts, photographs inspire us and influence our design choices.  Great photos will make even greater scrapbook pages.  So, let’s dig in…

Do you consistently try to center your subject when taking photographs?  This topic has been coming up a lot lately.  It’s also my pet peeve! WHY does everyone think the subject needs to be centered?  I often have to shake my head (and not scream!) when friends/family look at images and say “I would like it better if he/she/it was in the middle” or “why isn’t he/she/it centered”.  C’mon, seriously? NOT centering images is done for a REASON!  Here’s a little “design” lesson.  Let’s see if it will change your mind about always centering your images.

The “Rule of Thirds” is a basic design principle that is the basis for well-balanced and interesting shots. The basic principle behind this rule is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have a 9 part grid as follows:

With this grid in mind, the Rule of Thirds now identifies four important parts of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image. The four points where these lines intersect are strongest focal points. The lines themselves are the second strongest focal points.  In theory, if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines, then your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally. Studies have shown that when viewing images, people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points more naturally than to the center of the shot. Using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing an image rather than working against it.

In learning how to use the rule of thirds the most important questions to be asking of yourself are:

What are the points of interest in this shot?

Where am I intentionally placing them?

The auto-focus mode on your camera may cause problems when shooting in Rule of Thirds style because it assumes the subject is in the center of the frame.  That’s when auto-focus lock comes in handy.  Simply aim your camera so that the auto-focus frame is positioned over your subject and push the shutter release button halfway.  By keeping your finger in place on the button, you lock in focus.  You can then re-compose your shot and shoot the image.

Don’t forget to keep the Rule of Thirds in mind as you edit your photos - cropping and reframing images so that they fit within the rules.  Experiment with some of your old shots to see what impact it might have.  You may be surprised.

(by using the rule-of-thirds principle, I was able to crop out the distracting girl in the background which brings the focus on the boy trying to hide his smile from me)

Rules, as we all know, are meant to be broken. Ignoring the Rule of Thirds doesn’t mean your images are unbalanced or uninteresting.  In certain situations, breaking the rule can actually result in some striking shots.  A very talented commercial photographer recently told me that if you intend to break a rule you should always learn it first to make sure your breaking of it is all the more effective.

(filling your frame with an image is the ideal time to break the rule)

So go ahead… I DARE you.  Do NOT center your images!  Apply the rule-of-thirds design principle and you may surprise yourself.  In the end, we love our favorite shots not for technical qualities (ok, maybe just a little), but because they’re meaningful and spark within us a certain feeling or memory.  Capture those moments… centered or NOT!

~ Mary M.


Brooke said...

Great post Mary!

Barbara said...

Those photos perfectly display how much better pictures look when they are NOT centered. Great tips.