Besides being a great number in a still-life, Three is a good rule-of-thumb number when arranging and composing your photograph. An overly symmetric image can look too static. This, of course, is frequently used for an iconic effect. However, in this post I want to demonstrate how to set up a picture in thirds, creating drama and a dynamic viewing experience. The following are examples on how that can be achieved:

This group of birds forms a band that’s about a third the length of the photograph. The water and other darker landforms help visually to form this division.

Catch A BreezeWeb

The extending tree limb this heron is perched on is roughly one third the way up from the bottom, while the head and highlight on the wing are about a third the way from the right. Normally I avoid directing eyes out of the picture, but the tree limb helps counter an unwanted symmetry that occurs from the whole of the bird visually dividing the image in half.


I’ve included this next example because it covers another rule of three repeated often in the world of landscape painting and photography: Foreground, middle-ground and background. The key elements in this image are the organic shaped form in the foreground, the dark land mass behind it and the tiny dark land mass at the extreme right of the image.


There is a clear left dominance in this image with the form in the foreground clustered with the land mass on the left (not unlike a still-life composition where an apple might be grouped with a glass or bottle.) In an otherwise sparse scene, these uses of thirds, as well as the application of dominant and subordinate themes, can make your pictures become more dynamic and engaging.

I hope you find this tutorial helpful. Please contact me if you would like other tips or just want to say hi!

Happy Shooting!

Shawn Pagels