A Belated Introduction
It is time to turn to another concept in composition. When we crop we must have a purpose. That purpose is to make our image stronger than it was uncropped, or cropped in-camera at time of capture. While we have danced around the Rule of Thirds in previous articles, it is time to dive in whole-heartedly.
Simply put, the Rule of Thirds states that by dividing an image into thirds: horizontally and vertically, and placing the key components of the image along these lines, makes for a more powerful image. Proponents of this time-honored rule claim that these images are more pleasing to the eye, contain more tension and generally evoke more power. Regardless of the aspect ratio you choose, the rule of thirds concept can aid your composition.
Rule of Thirds is a good field guide for approximating the powerful elements of your image within your viewfinder. Working under the adage that Dead Center Is Deadly, we attempt to compose in-camera so that our key elements line up near these rule of third lines. For example we might try to place a horizon or shoreline on the lower rule of thirds line. Some cameras come with rule of third overlays built into the viewfinder or focusing screen to aid you in composition as you are taking the pictures.
The four intersections of the rule of thirds lines are known as the “Power Points” and are desired locations for key elements-namely your primary subject. For example, a person’s face might belong at the power point marked in white. In the image at the beginning of the article, the horizon is placed near the lower rule line and the tree at the lower left power point. The brightest part of the clouds is placed at the upper right power point.
Sometimes it is impossible in the field to line up every element along the rule of thirds lines and the associated power points. You may need to crop off unwanted elements or change the aspect ratio to make your image more powerful. When this happens you need to watch what happens to your key compositional elements as you shave material off the four sides of your image. In the image show above, excess sky and foreground have been sacrificed to give thirds separation to grassland, mountains and sky. The frost-covered bush resides at the lower right power point.
Software can aid you here as many programs offer a rule of thirds overlay during the cropping process to provide you with compositional guides. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is one software package that offers these guides. There are also plug-ins available for many image editors that will accomplish this purpose. Golden Section from Power Retouche is a good example. It is no small item that when Adobe released Photoshop CS5 that the cropping tool now comes with a rule of thirds overlay to aid you in composition.
Subsequent articles will continue to explore the concept of cropping images with the Rule of Thirds in mind.
Rikk Flohr © 2010