Before I get started with this week’s lesson I feel obligated to ask, “did you have a nice Mother’s Day?”
Good. Me too.
(You did remember to hand the camera off, didn’t you???)
(Yeah, me neither.)
I also feel obligated to remind you that if you click on the “Mama with a Camera Monday” category link at the end of this post it will take you to a page that contains ALL of the lessons from the past five weeks. Revisit them if you’re just joining us. Just so you won’t feel left out!
We’ve been talking a lot about composition for the past several weeks and we’re going to continue with that today. This will be our last composition lesson before we move on to some more technical details next week. BUT don’t let your eyes glaze over as you read this post…this one is a biggie! This week I want to introduce you (or remind you, for you teacher’s pets who already know it!) to the Rule of Thirds. Or what I’d like to call Think Offcenter. Cause let’s face it…the middle is no fun. No one loves being a middle child (no offense), no one enjoys the middle of a book (oh yeah, well then why’d you read the last page first?), and no one likes a friend who stays in the middle of an argument (pick a side already!). Okay, I realize those are drastic overgeneralizations but all strong rules and statements are. The same is true of this Rule of Thirds thing but you MUST UNDERSTAND IT before you can go against it. Deal?
So let’s get started.
If you’ve spent much time looking at painted art or photography or even just print ads you may have noticed a strong lean to the right (Or left. Or top. Or bottom.) when it comes to the strongest visual elements of the piece. This isn’t the act of an errant artist who missed the middle mark. It’s an intentional move meant to draw the viewer in based on the geometric form of the Golden Mean (here’s where my mathematician sister-in-law sits up a little straighter in her seat). If I were my sister-in-law I would explain to you what the Golden Mean is and how it came to be. I’m not her (although if I could be anyone else I might choose to be her…she’s pretty great) so I can’t get all mathematical on you. What I can tell you is that the rule of thirds states that the most pleasing point of an image is where two lines of an image divided into thirds intersect.
For example, let’s look at this shot.
Now let’s check it out with a rule of thirds overlay:
Placing her eye at the intersection of the top and left lines causes instant impact for the viewer…even if you didn’t know you were looking for the rule of thirds!
Now that first example is more portrait-y than most of the shots I take of my own kids. But because I’ve studied the rule of thirds so much it took no time for me to find more examples in my folders…they were overflowing with offcenter images! Here are a few, both with overlays and without.
Now I’ll go ahead and warn you that when you start chopping heads the grandmothers in your family are not going to be happy.
You’ll start hearing things like, “that sure would be a pretty picture if you hadn’t cut his forehead off.”
But persevere. It’s all in the name of visual impact.
But don’t bother explaining that to Granny. Just nod your head and smile.
As you’re looking at these images I want you to try to imagine what they would have looked like if the subjects had been situated dead-center in the frame. Would they have the same impact?
Or would they look, well, dead. Lifeless? Without interest?
The rule of thirds is certainly not reserved for portrait and landscape photographers. It lends just as much impact to the story you’re telling with your family snapshots as to Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night.
So starting tonight (or tomorrow morning) shun the middle. Think Off center. Grab that camera and push your viewfinder off to the left. Or Right. Or Top. Or Bottom. Start thinking in terms of visual impact and intersecting lines.
And promise to still be my friend even if you’re a middle child.