When I was starting out, like many photographers I would imagine, I would put my horizon or whatever the subject might have been in the center of the frame. Perhaps I felt that dead center was where we had to put the most important things. I did not yet have a good sense of balance or general framing.
One of the first things we learn about composition is the Rule of Thirds which divides the frame into a grid of nine regions of equal size. We are told to put our horizons on the upper or lower line and our main subject and other elements along one of the two vertical lines. As we move forward with our understanding of the rule, we learn that placing subjects on the hotspots – or the intersections of the vertical and horizontal lines – can add interest and power to our images.
There are any number of ways to utilize the Rule of Thirds in creating compelling photos, but if we always stick to the rules, and only stick to this one, we limit ourselves in the creative choices we can make.
I’m a Lightroom guy, I have been since the initial public beta way back when, and I love that the crop tool has a built in Rule of Thirds overlay to help fine tune your framing. But it doesn’t stop there. Built into the crop tool is a series of six overlay options to help guide your decisions in post but also serve as inspiration for alternatives for your in-camera framing.
To access these crop overlay options, select an image in your Lightroom library and press R to send the image into the Develop Module with the crop tool activated. You can cycle through each of the overlays by pressing O. Pressing Cmd/Ctrl+O will rotate the asymmetrical options, giving you even more variations to work with.
Since learning about this feature, every time I put my eye up to the viewfinder I consider more framing alternatives than my Rule of Thirds roots would dictate. These additional compositional guides grant me the freedom to move beyond what I’ve learned and to take things to a new level as I grow in my craft. As with all rules, we learn them so that we can employ them with excellence, but we also learn them so we can know when to build off of or even break them in the service of our images.
Next time you are firing away, consider an alternative. Tilt your horizon, place your subject in a different context with the scene, try something new.
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