It is time for the next installment of the rule of thirds discussion begun in the last article.
Today, we are going to walk an image around the four power points in the rule of thirds grid. This is an exercise you can and should do in your viewfinder every time you compose a picture. It allows you to view your subject in new ways and to find the composition you like best in the field. If you are just starting out, I recommend that you snap a four pictures, one each, with the most important part of the image on each of the four power points so you can review them later.
- Center on your subject and acquire focus and metering.
- Take the shot.
- Repeat step one and move your subject to one of the four power points.
- Take the shot.
- Repeat 3 and 4 until you have five images.
- Evaluate the five exposures and discover which has the most interest.
Dead-center is deadly – bury this image
I have a single image of a hawk photographed in North Dakota. Instead of using the viewfinder to capture different images of the bird, I am going to use the crop. The above image is centered. Chances are the exposure and focus are good but the composition is static. While an adequate documentation of “having seen a bird somewhere”, it is little more. Let’s take a trip around the power points.
The four images resulting from our centering of the hawk on each of the rule of third intersections yields some very different images. The bird’s head was the most important part of the bird and the bird is the most important part of the picture. This is what was used as a guide for lining up the bird with the various power points.
As you can see, putting the bird at the two lower power points feels awkward. It is almost like the bird doesn’t have anywhere to sit. He might as well be sitting on the edge of your picture. Both of these can be discarded as violating the Rule of Space.
The two left-hand rule images also violate the Rule of Space (a rule we have hithertofore not discussed). We know it just doesn’t look quite right. The bird appears ready to leap out of frame in both images. He is looking out of frame as well. At what? I don’t know. The space behind him is empty and useless.
The image at lower right is by far the best crop. The bird has plenty of space into which to move and view. Now he is looking at me! He is sitting on a well-grounded object and doesn’t look crowded against any edge. His head is on the upper-right power point. Compositionally, it is the strongest image so far.
I guess it turned out to be one power point and four funerals ultimately. The key concept is remembering to move your subject in-viewfinder, allowing you to find this shot in the field. You don’t lose valuable megapixels by having to crop later.
I still am not satisfied. There is another crop we can do here: Crop Rotation!
The bird is a vertical subject. Why not a vertical crop? Make that landscape into a portrait! Aligning the bird’s head on the top horizontal rule of thirds’ division, the fence post and the bird’s head on the right hand vertical rule, yields this composition. It has a lot working for it. The bird is facing left and has room to move and look left. The bird will take wing sometime and we have left vertical room for him to move as well. We expect birds to go “UP” and leaving room on the top for him to move pleases our sensibilities. Just enough fence post is left to ground the bird in the scene, anchoring him to the earth. We know fence posts don’t float so we are satisfied the bird is stable.
The final crop underscores another item regarding your viewfinder previewing.
- Perform steps 1-5 from first exercise
- Turn camera portrait
When you are in the field, quickly size up who or what your subject is and try it at the four power points in both portrait and landscape orientation. You will like one instantly more than most of the rest. If two separate interpretations are vying for your approval, take them both and decide later.
Rikk Flohr © 2010