One of the many reasons why we take photographs is to communicate a story. In a landscape, the main subject can often be the stunning location or the amazing sky. When you place the horizon in the middle of the scene, it cuts the image in half and the viewer has to subconsciously work harder to interpret what the image is about (story). If you love taking landscapes in your travels check out my article '40 tips to take travel photo using your smartphone article'.
By placing the horizon on the lower of the two horizontal lines, you are filling the top two thirds with the sky. As the majority of the image is the sky – you are communicating to the viewer that this is what the story is about. Conversely, if the sky is a bit drab and not giving you anything – place the horizon on the top horizon line.
Next time you see a magazine cover – notice the model's eye will always be in one of these four intersecting points. It will also be the eye closest to the camera. Sometimes there may be variations when the photographer has to leave extra room for text and headings on a magazine page. This also applies to taking portrait photographs of your pets!
I have had a couple of attendees contact me several weeks after an in-person smartphone photography workshop – to tell me that I had ruined going to the movies forever! Now they find themselves analysing the production and positioning of the actors and are now seeing the rule of thirds everywhere! You probably will too now – you're welcome!
Which line do I place the subject?
Now imagine a photo of a person positioned ideally on the left of the two vertical lines. In the first photo, we have the person looking toward the middle of the photo. This allows us to see what they are looking at and quickly interpret the story being communicated. In the second photo, the person is positioned the same – however, they are positioned on the right vertical line and looking toward the edge of the photo. This can create some visual tension, as we cannot see what it is they are looking at. It creates some unease, confusion, mystery and in some instances can completely change the mood.
Although the viewer is encouraged to use their own experiences and imagination to interpret your image – you had a clear intention for taking the photo. Cropping the image without sufficient considering can dramatically change the story, look, feel, mood and emotional response from the viewer.
Square photos rule of thirds variation
On the iPhone – you have the option to capture a square image as a capture mode. Most Android smartphones have multiple aspect ratios available in the settings.
When you either capture or edit a photo in a square aspect ratio 1:1 – the rule of thirds stills applies. However, the lines closer to the middle are not that far off-centre. I recommend imagining the interesting lines further out. This creates more space that is normally a bit of a struggle in a square photo.