The Rule of Thirds, apparently put forward by John Thomas Smith in 1797, was proposed as a way of breaking up an expanse to make it more pleasing to the eye. Much is made of the 2:1 ratio.
The Rule of Thirds is based on lines that divide the image into nine equally-sized areas. The idea is to place features of interest at the intersection points or along the dividing lines. Originally, it was a way of managing the dominant and subordinate features of an image.
I wonder if it’s not purely about mathematical ratios. Perhaps it could simply be about access. For example, if we plonk the tree or lighthouse or whatever in the middle of the frame, we have cut off the viewer’s access to the rest of the space. That’s fine if that’s the intention. However, if we want to draw the viewer into the vast expansion we’ve captured within the four sides of our frame, then the Rule of Thirds can help us achieve that.
For this week’s Daily Press photo challenge, I’ve rummaged through my archives to find images that push the Rule of Thirds just a little bit. I’ve discovered I’m happiest with the Rule when it’s partnered with other compositional ploys.
In this photo of old steel cables from the Railway Museum at Junee, NSW, the key compositional element is repetition.
Look at the way the contents of the top third and right-hand third are visually hectic. Compare that with the calm and order of the remaining area in the lower left of the image. The transition from the calm to the hectic lies (roughly) along two of the Rule of Thirds dividing lines, one horizontal, the other vertical. However, nothing significant sits at the point where these two lines intersect because that would distract, draw unnecessary attention.
The swirling colours of this glass paperweight carry the viewer’s eye. Notice the placement of the dark dot on a vertical Rule of Third dividing line. Thankfully, I didn’t know how use the editing software to remove imperfections back then. I love how it’s placement forms a visual connection with the “ground” and adds to the dynamic feel of the image. I’ll grant you that it’s subtle, but it still respects the rule. It’s placement dictated the amount of space I could include around the swirls.
The line of the glasses and the shadow cast by one of it’s stems are the means by which I sought to encourage the viewer to enter this image. But that doesn’t mean the Rule of Thirds was abandoned.
Three of the Rule’s four intersection points are important in this composition. The first intersection point is where the shadow crosses the upper rim of the lens. At this point, I hoped to create some tension for the viewer. If the theorists are right, our viewing habits would encourage the eye to travel up to the next intersection point (in this case, where the stem intersects with the painting’s horizon). I wondered if the viewer might be drawn along the shadow instead if I placed the face at the third intersection point.
The stem of the glasses is darker and dominates, but the shadow is where the meaning of the composition lies, particularly where it crosses the face. The placement of the shadow within the Rule of Thirds aims to trigger a little tension, to push the shadow forward and confront that dominance. The question, I suppose, is whether that tension is resolved? Does the image feel comfortable and harmonious for you, or not?