There is an old saying that 95% of a good photograph is taken before the camera is even picked up. The ‘message’ that is planned for the photo, the mechanics of the camera and the physical setting for the photo, is all thought out before a camera is even picked up.
This is why seeing a good photograph and thinking ‘wow, they must have a good camera’ is like saying Roger Federer is good at tennis because he has a good racquet.
For example, see the photograph of the crab in the jellyfish. It is a pretty good photo that won me a competition. It is not great, but it is pretty good. You might think it was taken with all sorts of fancy photographic equipment, but the truth is it was taken with a $150 point and shoot Casio camera in a $100 underwater housing.
In a series of hints I hope to help you improve your photography so you never again think it is the camera that takes a good shot, it is the photographer.
We have all returned from holiday only to look at our photos and be a little underwhelmed. If you were to do only one thing to improve your travel photography it would be to understand a very simple rule of what the photographers call ‘Composition’ – a fancy way of saying ‘what is in the photograph’.
What is the Rule of Thirds?
The “Rule of Thirds” is the basis for well balanced and interesting shots ad has existed from the earliest time of art. You will see the rule of thirds in many great paintings that well pre-date the invention of photography.
The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds both horizontally and vertically as shown on the right.
For a reason that no-one fully understands, the human eye is attracted to the four intersection points of the lines. This is where you should consider placing points of interest in your photograph.
Think back to good photos or paintings you have seen and ask yourself if the rule of thirds applies. Also keep an eye out for the rule of thirds in future shots you see. Many cameras now give you the option of having a grid on your viewfinder to keep the rule of thirds in mind when you take a shot. Check your camera’s settings. I find it very useful to leave the grid turned on.
In the photo of the Cheetah on the right you see two things. First, the head is in the top left of the intersection points. Secondly, the body is on the left-hand grid line with the head looking into the distance. This gives a sense of space, often called ‘negative space’ by photographers. Rather than just placing the animal in the photograph, we see she is in context of being in the savannah and on the lookout. The photo communicates much more than just the animal with a lot of this communication coming from the placement on the left-hand grid line.
The grid lines can also help with the horizon. Putting the horizon on the lower line gives a sense of sky, whereas putting the horizon on the upper grid can give a sense of land or sea, as you can see in the following two examples.Using the Rule of Thirds comes naturally to some photographers but for some a little time and practice is needed for it to become second nature.
In learning how to use the rule of thirds (and then to break it) the most important questions to ask yourself are:
- What is the story I want to tell with my photo?
- What are the points of interest in the photo?
- Where am I intentionally placing those points of interest?
Remember that breaking the rule can result in some great shots – so once you’ve learnt the rule you can then experiment with purposely breaking it to see what happens, like I did in the jellyfish shot.
Lastly – keep the rule of thirds in mind as you edit your photos later on. Post production editing tools today have good tools for cropping and reframing images so that they fit within the rules. Experiment with some of your old shots to see what impact it might have on your photos.
I hope this helps. Keep an eye out for later posts with more hints.