The Rule of Thirds in iPhoneography

bestiphonephotoappsDon’t listen to what those camera snobs say – your iPhone is a perfectly great device to take wonderful photos for more than just social use. And just like with a professional camera, you should apply the same photography rules with all the pictures you take. Have you heard of the rule of thirds? The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have nine parts. This breakdown into three parts now identifies four important parts of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image. This will then give you four ‘lines’ that are also useful positions for elements in your photo. The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally. The same rule of thirds that professionals use also applies to when you take photos with your iPhone.

Guy Yang, professional photographer and innovative ‘iPhoneographer’, introduces you to the best ways to take and edit great photos with your iPhone in his essentials course. The transcript below takes you through the four types of elements you need to be aware of to use the rule of thirds effectively. This will enable you to capture shots that are both spatially stunning and appropriately focused.


Lecture Transcript:

Hello everyone and welcome. You’ve probably already heard quite a bit about the rule of thirds. It’s one of the very first composition rules you hear about when you begin in photography. But in this video, we’ll look at it from a new and fresh point of view.

I recently realized that, even though it’s often mentioned as one of the basic tenets of photography, none of the numerous articles I found online on this topic actually address the rule of thirds comprehensively. I’m not even sure that, if I brought all of them together, you’d get a full understanding of how to effectively use the rule of thirds. This video sets out to do just that – help you grasp all principles stemming out of the rule of thirds. As you will see, there are more principles than you would think. I’ll also give you hands on tools to easily apply these principles in your ‘iPhoneography’. The other reason, and more important reason, I’m doing a video about the rule of thirds, is pretty simple. Many of you are beginner and intermediate level ‘iPhoneographers’, and are not very familiar with composition. Several times you’ve asked me to make videos on that topic, and today your wish comes true.

In this video, we’ll start with the more traditional way of looking at the rule of thirds. Then we’ll dive into the lesser known side of the rule, and finally, we’ll look at practical ways of using the rule of thirds on the iPhone. If you’d like to skip the basics of the rule of thirds, just jump over to video two. There, you’ll get the new stuff.

Okay, enough talking. Let’s dive into the heart of the matter. The rule of thirds is actually a rule of thumb; it’s a guideline. It’s no guarantee your photo will be a hit every time you use that rule. But, by using it, you do increase your chances to have an aesthetically pleasing shot. Most of you know that the rule of thirds is based on applying a tic-tac-toe grid on top of your view finder. This simple grid defines four types of elements you need to be aware of to use the rule of thirds effectively. These are:

1. The four junction points, adding to section of the lines.

2. The four lines.

3. Six bands: three horizontal and three vertical bands.

4. 25 quadrants. That’s right, you’ve heard it correctly. That’s 25 quadrants.

Each of these types of elements can be used individually or in combination, to improve your composition.

Let’s review each separately before we talk about a couple of ways to combine them. These four junction points are the most well known elements of the rule of thirds. These points are great to place small subject, subjects that take relatively little space in the whole picture. This is the easiest composition situation you’ll come across. Such subjects can be placed in three different ways within your frame: in the center, but in 99% of the cases, that’s an unattractive position; close to the edges, that works in some cases, but it does not for this photo; or finally, on one of the four points defined by the rule of thirds. Here, it works pretty well.

You may be wondering how to choose among the four points. In many cases, the answer to that question is quite simple; it depends on the movement in the photo. And more often than not, it depends on the movement induced by your subject. Here, in this photo of a trotter, training on a beach in French Normandy, I could position the horse and the sulky on only two of the four points. That’s because the dynamic, the movement in this photo, goes from right to left. In that case, it is important to leave more space in front of the moving subject, on the left hand side. This is a very classical way to compose this kind of photo. And because the sky is beautiful, the bottom right point is most suited for this shot.

Now, having small subjects with a lot of space around them is classical, but only one of the numerous composition situations you’ll encounter. When you have larger subjects, deciding to what to place on one of the four points is a little bit more challenging. If your subject is a person or an animal, there’s an interesting guideline to remember. That’s the eye, face, body guideline. The idea is quite straightforward. When viewing a photo, we are drawn first to the eyes, then to the face, and finally, to the body of the subject. Even though we see the photo as a whole, we also unconsciously focus on specific parts of the photo and more often than not, we focus along this hierarchy: eye, face, body.

Of course, it depends on the size of your subject. For the seagull in the sky and the trotter on the beach, we could only focus on the body, because they were so small. On the contrary, in this photo, I placed the face of my daughter, running in the park in front of the Eiffel Tower, on one of the four points. And for portraits that I take even closer, like this one, I place one of the points on either one of the eyes or in the middle, between the two eyes.

If your subject is not a person or an animal, you need to determine which detail, which part of the photo, naturally attracts the viewer’s eyes, and place that part on one of the four points. In this photo of the wheel of a Porsche, that point is the hub of the wheel. That’s why I placed it on the top left junction point.

For more on the best ways to take and edit great photos with your iPhone, take the full course today!