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Tips & Tricks

Goodbye, Rule of Thirds? Alternative Methods to Master Composition

By Hanssie on March 20th 2016

The rule of thirds is one of the many foundational “rules” of good photography. The tic-tac-toe grid found in your viewfinder helps photographers align their images to ensure they are perfect, right? Just place your subject in any of the areas where the lines intersect and voila, your job is done.

Rules in a creative world are often broken, usually once you’ve absorbed and acknowledged their existence. The creative mind doesn’t fit in a box (or in this case, a grid) and that’s a good thing. But how does a rule follower like me, get out of the rule of thirds mentality and still create art? (Yes, I’m being facetious there). Is there a compositional world outside of thirds? The following video explores that possibility.



After studying master artists such as Da Vinci, Rubens, Degas, and more, photographer Tavis Leaf Glover is on a mission to “kill off the rule of thirds once and for all” with this video debunking ten myths about the rule of thirds and giving you alternate methods in its place. He calls the rule of thirds a “flawed” and “lazy” method that he was “brainwashed” into thinking was acceptable. (I’m not sure why he hates the R.O.T. so much; it has its merits – though admittedly, it’s overused).

He further goes on to clarify that it really depends on the standard of images you want to produce – that in the league of the masters found in museums or art of the “Sunday painter” whose paintings are found in the local antique stores?

In addition to listing the myths (you’ll have to watch the video below if you’re dying of curiosity what they are), the gold lies in the examples of alternate methods of composition in masterpieces and from master artists and photographers. The video demonstrates the following methods: Gestalt Psychology, Dynamic Symmetry, Grid System, Figure-Ground Relationship, Law of Continuity, Law of Proximity, Gamut, Ellipses, Radiating Lines, Enclosures, Arabesques, Edge Flicker and Greatest Area of Contrast.


After viewing the video below, you’ll have the Rule of Thirds and many other rule/principles/guidelines/tools at your disposal to take your standard of art to that of a master. It’s a 12 minutes well spent.

To see more, check out the Canon of Design website which he covers many of these areas extensively.

[Via Reddit]

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tim Daniels

    There is more than one composition theory and all the author does is compare working in thirds to every other composition theory. He’s made up all kinds of crap about “the rule of thirds” that were never myths in the first place. Besides, it is not a rule, it a suggestion. This is total BS.

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  2. Carey Smith


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  3. Dede Vidal

    This is quite an interesting point of view. This may apply for novices or someone who actually wants to be an art critic. I just want to capture the moment or express what I see through the lens when I photograph a monument, a building or a decorative layout.

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  4. gerald Besson

    Thanks for the article Hanssie, it’s always interesting to look at things from a different angle, love it!

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  5. Jason Trayer

    I can’t agree with this 100%. Art is an interpretation and doesn’t have any rules. The video should really be an opener to composition and not discounting the rule of thirds. I started with it and made some photos I like. Also, the mind works off of patterns and negative space. I don’t view negative space as an issue. I recommend checking out the different approaches to composition, which other things were left out, and see what works best for you.

    Depending on the type of art you make, worrying about composition is adding complexity and causing overthinking. It also depends on what is important to you. I prefer natural behavior and mood. Think Jay Maisel “gesture” and letting things happen.

    Anything can be broken down and apply a theory to it so it can make sense to the creator or viewer. At the end of the day, it’s your photo, your passion, and your art. Do what you want to do and keep moving forward.

    Lastly, I prefer using phi golden ratio, which is found in nature, music, color and more. I started with the rule of thirds because you have to start somewhere and it has taken me to new levels.

    Music is the silence between the notes also known as negative space and tension.

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  6. norman tesch

    rules no rules. take your photos if you like it you like it. if you use rule off thirds or any other other rule you want. im more annoyed by people having to explain their photos, this thirds this, i used this, i did that. just sit back and enjoy your work. i dont believe any real artist spewes this. i believe that is from someone that was tought in school and dont actually have eye for art. i wanna see someone apply those non thirds rules to sports photography or wildlife because there is so much time to stop the motion and have them redo it to match some fantasy rule. face it the average person dosent know a good photo vs a bad one when they see it. they just know if they liek it reguardless of how you try to tell them why. as for the pic above you are just adding more lines to the rule of thirds.

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  7. Daniel Sabic

    I’m still a novice, but I believe I already made some nice photos. And for my favorite captures I never payed attention on rules, I just wanted to capture a special moment. Face, expression, colors… with combination of my focus dots that are positioned off center.

    I always wonder. Do great captures come from understanding all rules or does a great capture makes you understand all the rules? Seems sometimes it just happens.

    When shooting landscapes we have time to compose, but so often there is just enough time to lift your camera to your eye and press the shutter.

    Do masters always pay attention on rules or do they have a special feeling to make great photos?

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    • Ramon Acosta

      That’s where cropping comes in. The longer you take pictures, composition starts becoming second nature, before you lift your camera you already know what you want. It is only in portrait photoshoots where I exhaust my “gut” pictures and then I have to think about what I want to do, to get something different. But that’s just me.

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  8. Alex Kartashov

    That second picture makes my head hurt. Try imagining that in your viewfinder.

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