Knowing and mastering the rule of thirds is a simple way to push your photography to a higher level. The rule of thirds is one of the basic rules of art design. It is taking our photo frame and mentally placing a tic-tac-toe screen over it. Where the lines intersect are the “sweet spots” in which to place the important elements of a photograph. We should always keep our horizon lines on or above the top third of an image (mountain lake photo, below) or on or below the bottom third of an image (elk photo). The classic vacation sunset shot with the sun smack in the middle of the photograph is not good.
There are some dangers with using this rule. One danger is having the subject on one of the sweet spots in the photo and having the rest of the image filled with dead space. The only time you want empty space in a photo is if it adds to the story, as with the elk photo. The shaded black trees add time (sunrise) and place (a mountain valley) to the photo. The large negative space also gives a feeling of a vast wilderness.
So, don’t compromise the rest of the composition in an attempt to get something on a third. Filling the frame with the subject and possibly putting the most important part of the image—such as someone’s face or eye—on a sweet spot can avoid this.
Another mistake is having the subject too close to the edge of the frame and looking off of the photo. In most cases, when placed on one of the third lines, our subjects should be looking toward the middle of the image and not towards the edge.