What follows is a
discussion of the theory that leads to the rule of composition as it
relates to works of art and photography. Even though called a "rule"
it probably should be referred to as a "guideline", in that there
will always be other creative considerations in mind. Nonetheless,
it represents a terrific starting point in the creation process and
forces the creator of the work of art to examine his subject in
detail in relation to the other elements of the composition.
simply defined as the organization of space. Just as musicians
compose symphonies and interior designers arrange furnishings to
please the senses, photographers compose pictures so that all of the
visual elements of the image relate to each other in a harmonious
In portraiture it is the photographer's responsibility to
organize the visual elements of the image such that the primary
subject (normally the face) is the most dominant and visible
In a group photograph skill is required to insure that equal
emphasis is placed on each subject so that one individual does not
dominate the portrait.
Sometimes a secondary point of interest (a prop, tool, toy,etc.)
is an important element of the composition. These elements should be
placed in a manner that relates it to the primary subject, but be
subordinate to it.
Primary and secondary elements of
composition are arranged so that their relationship is naturally
pleasing to the eye. Subject placement should not be arbitrarily
made, but instead made so that its location relative to the sides
and vertices of the frame provides a natural and pleasant means of
viewing it. Determining that placement is based on a proportion that
is inherent in nature itself, and one that would be universally
recognized by any intelligent culture.
The ancient Greek
civilization studied shapes, patterns, and proportions that existed
in the natural world around them and found that, from among them
all, that the "Golden
Proportion" was the most simple, beautiful, and perplexing of
all. Found naturally in plant and animal form it led the Greeks to
theorize that the same natural beauty existant in nature should be
utilized in manmade creations (art, architecture, music, etc.) if
they, too, were to be thought of as beautiful.
The Rule of Thirds is simply a
generalization of the techniques used to locate saddle points within
the photograph. Imagine dividing the interior of the camera's
viewfinder into a Tic-Tac-Toe grid. The four points of intersection
within the grid, called "saddle points", indicate the best
possiblilities for subject placement that produces the most
interesting and dynamic composition. It pleases us as viewers in an
abstract sense because it forces us to recognize the "Golden
Proportion" within the framework of the rectangle. In fact there are
4 such "saddle points" available within the rectangle. Either one of
these may be utilized as the location of the primary subject. Any
secondary elements of the image should be placed at another saddle
point or on a diagonal line that exists between saddle points.
The center of interest in an image is not in
the center because placement of the subject there forces our eye to
view it in an unnatural and uncomfortable manner. Note in the
following illustration how the "Golden Proportion" is not utilized
when the subject is in the center. The triangles formed within the
rectangle are disproportionate to one another.
The same rules of composition apply to
rectangles other than the golden rectangle. Even though 5x7 and 8x10
photographs are disproportional to each other the viewer's eye can
be pleased if the subject is placed so that the interior of the
image is divided into similar triangles. Look at the 5x7 and 8x10
representations, as well as the 11x14, that follow and notice how
saddle points are determined in the same fashion.
It's a simple process that clearly
indicates how to make proper subject placement. By thinking
abstractly and drawing logical conclusions we are now able to relate
this information to practical composition in portraiture.
Each of the portraits that follow has a single
individual as the subject. Notice that, whether vertical or
horizontal, each image is composed so that the subject placement
coincides with a saddle point.