Thursday, January 12, 2012

Photography Techniques -- The Rule Of Thirds.

One of the many things that are taught at photography classes be they beginner or advanced is the use of the "Rule Of Thirds" when composing your images.
At Dpreview's FujiFilm Talk forum one of the members was asking for some feedback on a shot he had recently taken. On a personal level I like the image. It was presented as a sepia toned image direct from the camera. I like the image for its contextual look, in other words the subject wasnt totally isolated from the environment.
One of the replies mentioned that had the Rule of Thirds been applied the image would compositionaly looked better and had more impact. That may well be true for a lot of images but for this one I could see what the photographer was trying to capture. I would suggest that had the background been blurred a little more this would have helped isolate the subject more without removing the environment from the image.
There is a very good explanation of the Rule of Thirds and its application online so I wont delve into the specifics but rather direct your attention to the article to which I refer from Wikipedia

One of the many things I was taught as a budding photographer was that this and many other basic rules of photography aren't set in stone and are simply guidelines to follow to achieving good photos. The photographer should not feel bound to these rules as a regimental and unbending photographic technique. In point of fact a lot of photography schools will then very quickly tell you that the rules are there to be bent or broken when the photographer feels the need to do so.

One of the areas that I find the rule doesn't necessarily help is when shooting in urban environments. It can be hard to remove the clutter of urban environments from the image. Often the background of the image lends to the overall feel of the image. As an example this image of a flower immediately after the rain had stopped was just begging for a photo to be taken.
I was shooting in 16:9 mode with the HS20 (my favorite mode) and wanted to include the flower head, stem and background. If I had followed accurately the rule of thirds a good part of the flower would be out of frame, therefore to maintain the overall look I placed the flower top of frame, switched to macro mode at 126mm, and was able to get the flower in shot, with nicely out of focus background. However there is enough contextual information in the image for the observer to see that there was a building and window as well as the roof of a car in the image. This preserves the isolation of the subject, but doesn't limit environmental context.

Again in the second image it would have been easy to have shifted the leaf and water droplet a little left or right to accommodate the rule of thirds. However doing so would have cramped the image and left it looking somewhat unbalanced. In this case I deliberately centered the subject knowing that the balance looked more pleasing overall. I usually dont shoot in Black & White or Sepia directly in camera, I prefer to post process this afterwards, but in the case of this image I switched to B&W for the shot then post processed for tonality and contrast afterwards.

One of the things that becomes apparent very quickly when shooting in 16:9 mode is just how often the rule of thirds just doesn't work in the conventional sense. An image taken in 3:2 or 4:3 format is a lot more equalized in its dimension as can be seen in the example used in the Wiki article. When the same image is taken using 16:9 it can become difficult to use this technique. It is best for this mode to visualize how the image may look in a more conventional ratio and work to some degree from that.
In the first of the two images above I was able to place the centre of the flower in approx the top third of the image and let the stem lead down to the bottom third.
In the second image it was obvious that the centralizing of the subject was the correct position. I had taken a couple of other shots with the position changed but on checking these images on the monitor at home it was easy to see that the centered image was the right choice.
Suffice to say that while the Rule Of Thirds is a well known and often referred to technique it should not be seen as limiting method but rather simply as a guideline for obtaining better balance and composition in photographs. We have to remember that this rule was originally introduced in the late 1700's when photography and all its techniques were not even dreamed of. 
My wife was also taught this technique in her art class, which is what it was originally designed for and she now  regularly uses it in here work as guideline for setting out a new painting. She is also very quick to break this rule when it compositionaly or balance wise doesn't suit the finished work.
As in any thing we do in an artistic endeavor be it painting or photography there really are no rules merely guidelines, so dont be put off from showing your work because someone doesn't like your way of doing things.

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