Because sometimes the Rule of Thirds just isn’t enough.
In the last article, I introduced the concept of the Rule of Fifths. It is time to explore that concept in-depth.
The Rule of Thirds has long been a staple of the composition world. Sometimes, however, the composition with which nature presents us doesn’t slice well into a 3×3 grid. Onto the image above, I have laid a Rule of Thirds grid in green and a Rule of Fifths grid in red.
Looking at the originally captured image above. There is a road immediately out of frame to the left that I was cropping in-camera. There is also a wonderful curve in the clouds I am trying to maintain. These factors drove the in-camera framing. The sun is way too far left for normal sensibilities but the presence of the small peak holds it within the image. When the Rule of Thirds isn’t possible, the Rule of fifths is often the next best place to turn.
Of what is this a picture? This is always the first question we should ask ourselves. Obviously it is the sunset and the sun is our focal point. Next, where is the most exciting region of the picture: earth or sky? For me it is the sky. These two realizations dictate how I will approach my cropping.
I start by cropping in from the bottom to place the horizon on the lower rule of thirds line. The sky now takes on added importance but the balance on the picture is markedly skewed to the left. The sun is actually near the Rule of Seventh’s line which is a very unusual compositional position. We need more work.
Perhaps moving the horizon to the lowest Rule of Fifth will help. This is an interesting choice. At one fifth of the frame, the land still manages to anchor the scene. Any less land and the horizontal panoramic crop would loose its anchor and appear odd.
In this crop we left the horizon on the Rule of Fifths and cropped in from the right to move the sun into the leftmost Rule of Fifths. The balance is better. The scene is still anchored. We have maintained all of the sun’s rays and kept the curve of the clouds. The dark corner upper right balances the weight of the bright lower left corner.
Combining the Rule of Thirds for the horizon and the Rule of Fifths for the sun we end up with this effort. This is the same image onto which the grids were overlaid at the beginning of this article. This image strikes a nice balance. The sacrificed item is the edge of the cloud curve and the reward is a little better placement for the sun which is, after all, our focal point. It sits now at the intersection of the Rule of Thirds and the Rule of Fifths.
Rule of Fifths is a great go-to point when you can’t make Rule of Thirds work. It is an aesthetically pleasing place to try that arrives at a point far faster than trial-and-error might have. It is unfortunate that few image editing programs offer a Rule of Fifths compositional overlays. When this happens you can eyeball the Rule of Thirds grid and know that if you split the difference in a grid you are on a 1/6 placement and that you must move your imaginary split slightly to one side to approximate the Rule of Fifth.
Working the Rule of Thirds against the Rule of Fifths can sometimes create the tension you need while giving you the versatility to create many strong versions of your image. At least it gives you a tried and true place to start.
If you want to go nuts you can go after a horizon on the Rule of Sevenths and the Sun on the Rule of Thirds (if you are willing to crop portrait). But, as they say, that is a topic for another day.
Rikk Flohr © 2011