Shooting Challenge: The Rule of Thirds

By Martin Snelling on at

Here’s a simple question for you: What makes a great photograph? The answer isn’t as straightforward as you may think because photography, like any form of art, is subjective; one critic may think an image is a masterpiece, another will think it looks like a cat has done a crap on the lens.

A great photograph is made up from a number of different elements such as lighting, colour (or lack of), action, motion, emotion, a sense of wonder and most importantly, composition. You could have Dita Von Teese emerging from a glistening pool with water droplets falling from her pert...Sorry, got distracted for a moment there...Where was I? Oh yes, composition. Basically, if the composition is wrong on what may be a good image from a technical perspective, it will never be a great image, and may be forgotten in an instant.

I like to think that it is better for a photograph to be remembered and flawed, than technically perfect and forgettable. So, if you can nail the composition, you’re halfway there.


The Challenge (and Prize!):

This week’s challenge is very simple; capture an image that obeys one of the most basic ‘guidelines’ of image composition -- the rule of thirds. What you take a photo of is entirely up to you, but the final submission must follow the rule of thirds.

Now, if having fun and getting out and about with your camera isn’t enough of an incentive to enter this week’s Shooting Challenge, we’re giving you an extra incentive -- there’s a prize for the winning image! To celebrate Total Recall hitting UK cinemas from August the 29th, Sony Pictures UK have given us a WX100 camera (worth £209) and 32GB USB stick (worth £39).


The Technique:

So, what is the rule of thirds, you ask?

According to Wikipedia (so it must be true), it states that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. By aligning a subject/elements along these lines or at the intersections, it creates a more visually appealing image than simply centering the subject in the middle.

Your camera or phone app may have a feature that will display the guidelines, so do check before you start shooting, as it will be a big help. If it doesn’t, don’t worry -- as long as you can imagine the lines over your subject, you can always selective-crop your image afterwards.

When you crop your image in your image editor of choice, you should be able to select from a number of different aspect ratios – pick the one that fits your composition the best.


The Examples:

Now, I don’t think for a single second that these two example images are great images and will be remembered forever. But I do like them and they both adhere to the rule of thirds.

The first image, The Last Day of Summer, was shot on my recent holiday to the lovely Dorset coast. I didn’t have my camera with me at the time, and so I used my Galaxy SII and the Vignette app. The app displays the guidelines and so it was easy for me to get the correct composition. As you’ll see by the guidelines, both the horizon and waters edge fall on the horizontal lines and the couple are positioned over the far left vertical line.

I should tell you that by the time I’d spotted the photo-opportunity, the couple had moved on. So I asked them if they would hug again for me, and they happily obliged.

This image, which I have called HMS Sea Snail, was shot with a Panasonic DMC-GF3 with 14-42 lens at Hill Head in Dorset at dusk. The image was imported into Aperture and converted to B&W using Silver Efex Pro 2. Once I was happy with the image, I cropped it; ensuring that the horizon was along the top horizontal line and the boat was placed over the intersection of the bottom horizontal line and left vertical line.

What would the image look like if the boat were in the centre of the image?

Ok, I’m being a bit ‘over croppy’ with my crop tool; but you get the idea (I hope).


The Rules:

- Submissions MUST be your own work.
- Photos must be taken after the challenge was published; so no portfolio shots please.
- Explain, briefly in your submission email, the equipment, settings, technique used and the story behind the shot. Please ensure EXIF info is intact (if image was taken digitally).
- Email submissions to, not me.
- Please ensure your image is at least 600px wide and less than 3MB in size.
- Save your image as a JPG, and use the following naming convention FirstnameLastnamethirds.jpg
- Don’t forget to include a shooting summary (see above).
- Send your best photo (or photos if you have more than one but can’t decide which one is your favourite) by Monday, 27th August at 9PM UK time with “The Rule of Thirds” in the subject line.
- Anyone can enter, regardless of location.
- The most important rule — HAVE FUN!

Martin Snelling is a Hampshire-based man about town who works in the videogame industry. A keen photographer, Martin shoots on film and digital; he blogs here, and tweets here.