Why Balance is better than The Rule of Thirds.
Ok, what is the first rule of composition that we all learn at the very beginning of our journey? The Rule of Thirds……right.
What if there was another simple rule, that was as good or better than the Rule of Thirds?
I used to follow thirds blindly, placing all my subjects and horizons on or near the 1/3 lines. Don’t get me wrong, it can be very useful and create strong compositions. The problem arises when we follow any rule blindly, without giving thought to any other compositions.
What is a balanced composition? It’s actually quite easy.
The photo below is an excellent example of a balanced composition. Also, it happens to suit the Rule of Thirds too.
How does it work?
Let’s assume the red line is a see-saw / teeter-totter and the red circle in the centre is the pivot point.
To achieve a balanced composition, our aim is to frame the objects within our photo so that the see-saw is perfectly balanced. An equal amount of weight on each side.
You can see here that our rather large triangular subject sits mostly to the right of the centre point. Without the rocks on the left, the photo would be in danger of being right side heavy, however, with the inclusion of the rocks left of frame, the image is very well balanced.
Have you ever ridden a see-saw with someone much lighter? You probably noticed to achieve balance, the larger person needs to slide right up towards the middle. This rule also applies to compositional balance. A large object close to the pivot (middle) can be balanced by a smaller object near the edge of the frame.
Don’t be afraid to put your subject in the centre.
Many of my portfolio photos feature a big bold subject in a centred composition. I am often asked as to why this is the case and why I don’t use the Rule Of Thirds more.
The answer is, more often than not, that big bold subjects look odd (due to being out of balance) anywhere but over the centre point. You will notice in the above example that the horizon is more or less on the 1/3 line, however, the subject is balanced centrally between the left and right edge.
The above image has a very simple, uncluttered ,balanced composition. If we modify the image a little to have the subject sit on the Rule of Thirds (see below), we get an unbalanced, awkward composition that doesn’t really work. Un-balanced!
It’s not all about the Rule of Thirds
I am getting a little off track here as I wanted to highlight the power of compositional balance, however, given the Rule of Thirds has such a huge following among landscape photographers, I feel I should touch on that too.
Firstly I would definitely say that from a ‘Landscape’ point of view ,although they both work depending on the scene, in my opinion, balance is much more important than the Rule of Thirds. Who would have thought???? The Rule of Thirds is touted as the holy grail of composition, but that is just not always the case.
When does The Rule of Thirds work?
My best guess is that the current love affair with the Rule of Thirds came from portrait painting and portrait photography because it works so well in those fields – and lets be honest, that is where photography began.
Often you will see a portrait with the subject positioned to the left or right and often they will be looking into the large vacant area on the other side of the photo. It works very well, however, most subjects we photograph in the landscape don’t tend to be looking one way or another, so blindly following the Rule of Thirds often results in an unbalanced photo.
There are times when the Rule of Thirds works very well within landscape photography.
Often the horizon looks best placed roughly on the Rule of Thirds. Having 2/3s foreground and 1/3 sky can often give the photo a great sense of depth and 2/3s sky and 1/3 foreground can result in a feeling of space.
The Rule of Thirds can also work very well if our subject feels like it’s pointing in the direction of the open area. Often, if one side of the subject is in light and the other is in shadow, then having the light side pointed into the open space can also result in a strong thirds composition (See the example below). The photo is unbalanced, however, the image is successful in a 1/3’s composition as the subject looks to be facing the open space.
Consider all your options
There is no right or wrong way to compose a photograph. Next time you line up a shot, consider both balance and the Rule of Thirds. Two options is always better than One!
Take a look back through your photos and see how many are balanced. Have a play with the crop and see if you can achieve more balanced photos.
Remember, The Rule of Thirds is still a great compositional rule, however, you now have another option in your tool kit!
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.