Everyone who has done any studying of art and composition is well versed in the concept of the Rule of Thirds. Loyal readers of this blog should be familiar with the concept of the Rule of Fifths as well.
Essentially if you divide any artistic work into a grid 3×3 similar to a tic-tac-toe game, your subject and the most important elements should be placed at the intersection of the gridlines. Similarly, the Rule of Fifths allows you to place an image in certain circumstances on a 5×5 grid at the intersection of the 1/5 lines. Very seldom (make that almost never) has anyone asked why there is a Rule of Thirds and Fifths but no Rule of Fourths.
The picture on the left is a classic Rule of Thirds deployment of the subject (the Moon). The picture on the right is the Rule of Fifths deployment which is the general limit as to the placement of a strong subject and still hold it in-frame. There are exceptions, of course, I and I will, on rare occasion, drive the moon or sun clear to the rule of the sevenths — but only where the composition warrants.
In this image series, composition is simple and we don’t have a lot of competing elements other than the backdrop of the cloud-strewn skies. We also have the liberty, due to the lack of intruding distractions to center the moon right on the Power Points of the rules. This allows for a rather dispassionate analysis of the composition.
We can even take it closer to the edge by invoking the Rule of Sevenths. But even though we are working on the precipice, the composition still holds.
Taking a look at the comparison pairs: 3v4 and 4v5. Although there is no right answer, I would argue that, side-by-side, 3 looks better than 4 and 5 looks better than 4. My opinion to be certain and you may differ. History is on my side. Books and experts gravitate to this position. Is there a reason?
One of the rules of composition is the Rule of Odds which says that human aesthetics, all things being equal, tend to prefer arrangements of objects and space in odd rather than even numbers. One moon looks better than two. Three looks better than two. The same holds true of space. Odd space looks better than even space in a broad sense. Other rules intrude such as grounding, or space, direction, intrusions, etc. and these force our compositional placements to alter slightly from the simplistic view of a full moon in a textured sky.
So, ultimately, why no Rule of Fourths? Thirds and Fifths look better. Unless other compositional elements intrude, you should go with the strongest placement of your subject. When it comes to “rules” odds will be in your favor.
Rikk Flohr © 2013