The "Rule of the Thirds" is a fundamental truth among photographers and artists. I suppose that it's not really a rule though. You can think of it more as a "guideline". So, in that case, I guess that there are times when it can be broken. Before we talk about breaking the rule, let's talk about what the rule is all about. It's tough to know when to break a rule if you don't know when to apply it.
The "Rule of Thirds" calls for you to draw imaginary lines that divide the scene into a grid of horizontal and vertical thirds. That is, you mentally "draw" two horizontal lines which divides your image equally into three rows or bands. Then you draw two vertical lines which divides your image equally into three columns. The end result is a checkerboard of nine evenly spaced squares.
Now all you have to do is compose your image so that the main elements which are the most important or interesting are placed at any of the four intersecting points of a horizontal and vertical line. Yes, you can use "any" of the four points. Which one you use will be determined by the scene you are shooting and the natural placement of the subjects in it.
Experts say that by using the lines as a guide it's easy to produce a nicely composed image that avoids the common practice of centering your subject in the middle of the shot. Since there is no intersecting pair of lines in the center of the image, it's impossible to place your subject there if you follow the rule.
Camera manufacturers aren't big supporters of the "rule" because they design their auto focus circuitry around the assumption that the subject of the photograph will always be centered in the viewfinder. So, when shooting using the Rule of Thirds, you may need to switch to manual focus if your camera refuses to focus properly.
Now that you understand the rule, let's explore the wisdom of breaking it from time to time.
An interesting result of drawing those imaginary lines is that not only do they intersect, but they also run parallel to each other. That results in a side benefit which can give you an entirely different perspective when composing certain shots.
Let's suppose you're in the desert on a clear night with a full moon and a sky full of stars. You've got nothing but a miles of white sand, glistening in the moonlight, between you and a large butte in the distance.
Instead of placing the butte at one of the intersecting points, like the rule requires, center the butte horizontally in the viewfinder and then move the camera so that you place the top third of the butte slightly above the bottom horizontal line. The result will be a dramatic dwarfing of the mountain by that magnificent night sky and a perspective that the average photographer would have never seen if it weren't for the "rule".
The nice thing about the "Rule of Thirds" is that it always works when there isn't something else that will work better. That means that if you don't have time to compose a perfect shot, you'll at least end up with one that's better than ordinary if you let the "Rule of Thirds" take over.
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