What the Heck is the Rule of Thirds?


The rule of thirds is a fundamental rule across all artforms. A lot of times it is referred to as “the proper way to frame an image.” But what is it exactly? I will be explaining the rule of thirds concept in the context of cinematography.

To use the rule of thirds, you draw three (imaginary) lines horizontally and vertically on your camera monitor. This will create four intersection points. You then frame your subject, placing the most important focus point on one of these intersections. With that, you’re done! You now know how to use the rule of thirds.

But when shouldn’t you use this? As we all know, “rules are meant to be broken.” We need to investigate what we are achieving by using this rule. Simply put, we are drawing the eye to the most important part of the frame. In an interview, this would be the interviewee’s eyes; in a narrative, this would be the main character, and so on. Is the rule of thirds the only way to draw focus? Of course not! It is simply a tool used to help tell your story. There are several other ways to draw the viewer's attention to certain parts of the frame.

Drawing (more?) Lines:

Our eyes naturally follow lines in nature. They help provide depth and point our attention. In this example, the road is used to point towards the subject. There are literally two painted lines converging right where you need to be looking.

What about a more real-life scenario? In this scenario, I have used two concepts to draw your eye to the main focal point of the frame. I have created two converging lines as well as the rule of thirds!

Weight and Size of the Subject

Another way to draw attention is to weigh aspects of the frame differently. In this image, the main subject is framed much larger. This instantly draws the eye and creates a main focal point.

These are just a few methods to begin with. Of course, there are many other, more complex ways to grab a viewer’s attention. What’s the best way to learn these? Play around with it! You may not always get it right at first, but start with the basic concepts, break the “rules” and find what works for you and what you’re trying to create.