5 Genius Tricks “Using the Rule of Thirds” to Take Better Landscape Photos

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This time, Elisticle would like to share a little about the rules/principles of the rule of thirds. One of the easiest ways or techniques to improve your photo skills is to apply the ‘rule of thirds’ principle when taking pictures. The rule of thirds is one of the most famous photo techniques in photography. This principle is used in almost all types of photography to produce attractive images with perfect balance and is an excellent starting point for any composition.


The rule of thirds is a set of guidelines intended to help every photographer in placing an object or subject in an image in accordance with the way and appearance. Try to imagine that your photo is divided into 9 segments, 2 shapes in the vertical line and 2 in the horizontal line.

Take a look at the following picture…

Cool isn’t it? That’s the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds is the most famous composition in every type of photography where this principle states that to do this you must place the most important elements in your photo display along the line, or the point where the line intersects the inside of the image, in this way, it will Add balance and impact to your photos. Some cameras come with an option to automatically set the rule of thirds on the LCD screen, making it easier to use.


When a photo looks good in your landscape, there must be a reason it turned out so well. The reason behind such good photos is composition. In simple terms, the composition is the visual elements of a photo that make the photo look attractive, such as the placement of objects, subjects, focal points, and the overall layout of the photo.

5 Tips for Using the Rule of Thirds to Take Better Landscape Photos

The rule of thirds can be utilized in many different ways. Much of your composition will depend on your individual style and shooting preferences, as well as what you are trying to capture.

Before composing your shot, ask yourself the following questions.

Tips #1: What are the Points of Interest I’m Trying to Capture?

Identify the elements in your scene that will add interest to your photo. If you are photographing a landscape, you may identify a mountain range, the setting sun, and a lonely tree. All of these elements can be combined to create an interesting composition.

Now, you simply have to find the right vantage point to create an interesting scene using the rule of thirds. The overall scene will dictate where you place the elements along the grid lines, and as you frame and shoot a few shots, you may want to experiment with different placements.

Sunset at Tuweep Grand Canyon. The points of interest are placed in the upper right and right sections of the grid.

In the scene above, there are many interesting elements that work together to create a compelling image. The sun to the right of the center is set directly over the river, which diagonally bisects the scene. The walls of the canyon give the image depth and keep your eye moving throughout the photo.

Tips #2: What Story Am I Trying to Tell?

Every photograph has a story to tell, and it’s up to you to find the story you want to tell and capture it for your viewers.

Bison with snowy faces at Yellowstone in the winter. Use rule of thirds to tell a story.

The scene above depicts a bison in Yellowstone National Park. He is placed to the right of the center so that we can clearly see that he has been pushing up snow to forage underneath.

His snow-encrusted face and beard give us further clues about what he’s been up to. If we had positioned the bison to the left of the center, we would not have been able to adequately tell the bison’s story.

Tips #3: Where is My Subject Looking?

When shooting wildlife and people, it’s important to leave space so that the viewer can imagine the subject moving through the scene toward whatever they’re looking at.

This goes along with using your image to tell a compelling story. If you don’t leave enough space in front of your subject’s eyes, you create tension in your photo and leave the viewer feeling unsettled.

Owl in flight searching for its next meal. Use negative space for the subject’s eyes to move through the photo.

In the photo above, you definitely get the feeling that the still image was captured in the middle of an important moment. The owl is on the verge of capturing dinner. The added space in front of the subject’s eyes allows us to feel like we are part of the story.

Tips #4: How Can I Creatively Take Advantage of Negative Space?

Negative space is the “empty” area that surrounds the main elements in your photo. Positive and negative spaces can work together to create a beautiful composition.

Using lots of negative space surrounding your subject will add drama to your scene, and will help lead the viewer’s eye to the main elements of the photo.

Fisher Towers is reflected in the river near Moab, Utah. Use negative space and the rule of thirds to create a beautiful composition.

Negative space does not have to be completely empty space. While vast expanses of sky, grass, or water can certainly create negative space, so can a busy street scene.

The secret is to position the subject in such a way that it is complemented by the negative space and not overshadowed by it.

Tips #5: Is the Composition Pleasing to the Eye?

You don’t have to get bogged down with following all the rules to create a beautiful image.

Sometimes you will choose a composition simply because it looks good, and that is perfectly okay.

The more you practice and experiment with your composition, the more likely you will develop a unique style of your own.

Using a Rule of Thirds Grid on Your Camera

Some cameras have a built-in setting that will allow you to overlay a rule of thirds grid on top of your scene when you’re shooting. This is great for beginners and takes some of the guesswork out of creating a good composition.

Here’s how to use the rule of thirds grid with a few popular camera brands. If your camera isn’t listed here, check your manual, which will be able to tell you if your camera has the viewfinder grid option.

Rule of thirds grid photographing Thor’s Hammer at Bryce Canyon. Use the rule of thirds grid on your camera.

iPhone Rule of Thirds Grid

If you are shooting with an iPhone, you can easily display the rule of thirds grid when taking photos. Simply go to your phone’s Settings>Camera>Grid, and toggle it to the on position. Now whenever you take a photo with your iPhone, you will have the grid in place, ready to go.

Nikon Framing Grid

Many Nikon models give you the ability to add a rule of thirds grid to your viewfinder. To turn on this feature, Press your menu button and navigate to the Custom Setting Menu. Go to Shooting/display>Viewfinder grid display to turn it on. The grid only appears in your viewfinder, not over your LCD screen.

Canon Framing Grid

Not all Canon models have the viewfinder grid display option, but it is becoming more common. To turn on the grid display, press the menu button, then the “Q” button. Navigate to the small wrench icon on the top of the screen. Now navigate through the menu numbers until you find the Viewfinder display option. Select Grid display>Set>Show>Set. This will turn on your grid display over your viewfinder.

Sony Rule of Thirds Grid

Newer Sony camera models have the viewfinder grid option as well. To turn it on, press the menu button and use the control wheel to scroll to the very first tab in the custom settings menu. Highlight and select Grid Line, which will bring you to a submenu. Highlight and select Rule of 3rds Grid.

Practical in Use: 15 Rule Of Thirds Examples

The rule of thirds works particularly well for just about all types of photography that include some kind of background in them.

In the images below we’ll start off with some examples from landscape photography, and then move on to a few other genres.

This first shot is a classic rule of thirds composition, where the horizon lands on the bottom line of the thirds grid (so the sky is featured), and the rocks land on both of the vertical lines.

In this classic rule of thirds composition in landscape photography, the horizon is placed on the bottom third and the rocks hit both of the vertical lines. | Credit: Teryani Riggs

In the image below, the lighthouse is set on the right-hand third of the image, nicely setting off the rocks and the sea to the left.

This brings the eye first to the lighthouse, then to the rocks below, and then out to sea and sky.

Here, the lighthouse is on the right-hand vertical line. | Credit: Teryani Riggs

In this next example, both logs from the Hoh River fall on the two-thirds. They also function as leading lines that take the eye downriver and off into the distance.

Here, both logs hit the vertical thirds. | Photo Credit: Teryani Riggs

Likewise in the pastoral scene below, the eye travels first to the main subject and then down to the bottom third before meandering into the rest of the scene.

Credit: Teryani Riggs

You can also use the rule of thirds in nature photography and close-ups.

Here, the yellow of the pistil and stamen is set on the upper third, bringing the eye first to it and then following the stalk down to the lower left-hand third.

Credit: Teryani Riggs

If you’re not sure where to place a single main element and you want to include the background, the rule of thirds is a safe bet.

Credit: Teryani Riggs

Moving on to documentation, this photo illustrating grafting has the action happening on the line of the bottom-left point.

There’s not really any need for the eye to wander off, but the framing allows for more of the hand and arm position to be illustrated (instead of empty space).

Credit: Teryani Riggs

In this photo-journalistic shot of a bedouin making bread, the stove captures the eye first, before allowing it to wander off towards the hands of the woman and the dough behind her.

Credit: Teryani Riggs

How Does the Rule of Thirds Apply to Portraits?

The rule of thirds also works well when photographing people.

Many beginners assume that the subject in a portrait always has to be centered, but that’s not always the strongest composition – especially with lifestyle photos.

In other words, if you’re looking to capture more of the scene around a subject, the rule of thirds works really well.

The rule of thirds grid is just a guidepost. Not all the elements of an image need to be lined up perfectly to get the effect. For example, in the image above, the tent post and pillow aren’t quite on the right third, but it’s close enough for the framing to work. | Credit: Teryani Riggs

Lifestyle portraits can look really powerful when you place points of interest where the lines of the third grid intersect.

In the image above, the face of the Bedouin woman lands squarely on the power point to the left, while her body sits on a vertical line. While the tent post and pillow aren’t quite on the right third, they’re close enough for the elements to balance each other out.

Where should the subject’s eyes be when using the rule of thirds?

In portrait photography, the viewer’s eye is almost always drawn to the eyes of the subject first.

Since the art of composition is all about where we draw the viewer’s gaze to and how we lead them through an image, where you position a subject’s eyes will be of supreme importance.

In general, it’s best to put the subject’s eyes in the top third. Also, the subject should be looking into the scene, not into the edge of the image.

This, of course, doesn’t apply if the subject is looking into the camera, but if they’re looking to the side have them looking into the photo.

Even if their eyes are closed or they’re looking up or down, it’s still best to have the subject’s face pointing into the scene rather than towards the edge of the frame.

Even though the subject is looking down, they’re positioned so that their face is still pointed towards the center of the photo, not the left-hand edge. | Credit: Teryani Riggs

The rule of thirds can work well any time you’re capturing more than just the subject.

Below, the green of the grass and the red of the plum trees in the background are part of the overall scene, so the subject was placed on the last third (because they’re looking towards the first third).

Credit: Teryani Riggs

The rule of thirds also works when placing people into larger cityscape/landscape photos.

(Taking this a step further, the iamge below also makes use of the s-curve in photography to generate additional interest.)

In this case, positioning the person on the first third of the scene adds balance to the rock and the negative space elsewhere. | Credit: Teryani Riggs

In the cityscape below, the water level is on the bottom third and the woman with the umbrella is on the left third.

Credit: Teryani Riggs

The scene below is perfect for a rule of thirds composition. The corner of the wall lies right on the right third, as does the subject’s face and upper torso. His legs take up the rest of the space towards the left (on the bottom third) framing the negative space above.

Photo Credit: Teryani

Final Words

The rule of thirds is an easy way for beginner photographers to see the power of composing a subject off-center. It will almost always add a sense of dynamism and pleasing aesthetics to just about any photo where you want the eye to travel through a scene.

If you’re someone who has always centered your subjects, you might be amazed at how this technique might instantly improve some of your images.

(You may even be tempted to start cropping your old photos with editing software, now you know how to benefit from this technique.)

That being said, the “rule” of thirds is not a hard and fast rule – it’s more of a guideline that can be followed or not, depending on the needs of your composition. So learn it, start practicing – then don’t forget to break it!

Rules are meant to be broken… at least sometimes.

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About the Author: Michael Johnson

Michael is a landscape photographer based in Sydney, Australia. He has a keen eye for capturing the natural beauty of his surroundings, from sandy beaches to rugged mountains. His work has been exhibited in galleries throughout Australia and has won many awards for its stunning composition and lighting.

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