Three: The Magic Number

by Nicholas Raphael

“By skillfully mastering composition, the photographer becomes more than a technician. They become a storyteller.”

It’s All About Balance

Let’s face it, not every photo can be of something fascinating. Everyday products in commonplace contexts aren’t exactly exciting. But by skilfully hijacking the path of the eye, even the most boring object can be presented in an engaging way.

Good photography transcends rigid rules. But as a foundational guide to creating interest in a photo, the rule of thirds is a must for every photographer – amateur and professional alike.

A great photo is built on one thing: composition. The balance of foreground, background and subject means the difference between an adequate photo, and an amazing one. By using the rule of thirds, we can balance these elements in a way that highlights our subject to the human eye in a naturally engaging way.

Rule of Thirds in Photography

As you take a photo, look through the viewfinder. In your mind, divide the frame into horizontal and vertical thirds, overlaying what you see with a grid of 9 even quadrilaterals. Evidence shows that the human eye is naturally inclined towards the points in images where these lines theoretical lines intersect. This means that by using this frame in our photography, we can hijack this natural tendency, and induce in the eye of our viewer a natural emphasis on our subject.

Still life subjects aren’t usually very interesting. Take this example.
It’s a dartboard. Cool. Nobody cares. When we apply the rule of thirds to this image, we can see that the subject doesn’t meet any of the key intersections. Sure, it’s an adequate photo of a standard object. But ultimately it’s just not that interesting.
So let’s try again. By changing the composition of our image, we can create a visual path of interest for our viewer, and coax their eye to follow. Rather than a lazy full-frontal, let’s try and place the bullseye at one of our four theoretical intersections.
Now the image looks completely different. By spacing the subject across these thirds, the bullseye now meets the bottom left intersection. This transforms the bullseye, the dart and the board from being objects, to being subjects – luring the viewers eye.

Composition as Storytelling

Now the photo is more than an image, it’s a symbol. Perhaps it’s not a dart so much as a symbol of success, or persistence, or any message the compositor wants to convey. In this way, good photography wields composition as a tool to effect meaning. Now the image is not just a picture, but can be representative of anything the photographer chooses. By skilfully mastering composition in this way, the photographer becomes more than a technician. They become a storyteller.
In this way, the rule of thirds balances the aesthetic of an image, and can be exercised to imbue it with heightened meaning and interest.
Rather than sitting point-blank in the centre, the dart now meets the bullseye at the bottom-left point. By placing the subject at the intersection of these thirds, the photographer effects a visual path for the viewer – leading their eye by the blue line from the background, to the bullseye in the area of focus.
All images and content are from our team
here at Studio Nero.

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