Centering Subjects: On the Issue of Breaking the Rule of Thirds

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Samsung 85mm f1.4 portrait review images (1 of 3)ISO 1001-800 sec at f - 2.5

The Rule of Thirds: it’s the rule that every single photographer is told to follow from the beginning. It’s always about not centering your subjects and instead putting them around the intersecting inner corners of the image divided into nine sections. And you’re taught from the beginning to just follow this rule.

This rule has to do with technique, more than anything else. The technique is what also limits many other photographers from creating better images. What do we mean by that? When you first start out as a photographer, you’re bound to get stuck in trying to compose a scene along the rule of thirds lines. But that can either make you a better photographer or one that gets so wrapped up in the technique that they end up giving up. A similar thing happens in the video world with the 180 degree rule.

So here’s a message for beginners–telling you to compose in a brand new way.

Ready for the secret?

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm 26mm f1.2 portraits with Simon (1 of 2)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 2.8

The rule of thirds is more or less completely null and void when it comes to capturing an actual emotion, scene, or something that will reach out from the frame and grab someone. Sure, you can have loads and loads of great techniques and tricks–but what almost no teacher in the photo world will try to get you to learn is how to feel. Capturing real, every day emotions or finding a way to elicit them in a viewer is what will ultimately win out over composition or techniques any day of the week.

If the rule of thirds tells you to not center a subject, but you indeed don’t feel like you should listen to that rule, then go right ahead and do something else.

There are other rules for composition like the golden spiral, but they are not always as used. Also, consider who your clientele is.

Applying to put work in a gallery? Believe it not, a lot of that work isn’t following the rule of thirds–it’s more about marketing and sales than anything else.

Trying to impress a bride? What bride will sit there and send you an angry letter because you didn’t compose her and her spouse on the right hand rule of thirds?

Do you think photo editors at news wires prioritize an awesome and totally kick ass scene over whether or not something is frame by the rule of thirds? Heck no!

What we’re trying to tell you is that overall in an image, content is king. If you want to center your subject, then do it. Just make sure that the photo that you create is the best you can possibly make it.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.