What is The Rule of Thirds? (& How to Use It in Travel Photography Effectively?)

Rule of thirds - Example 1

You like traveling and you like taking photos, but you want to stop taking snapshots and find a quick way to improve composition of your photos. Say hello to the Rule of thirds!

The Rule of thirds is probably the quickest way to make your travel photos look more professional. 

This works even if you don’t have enough time to make proper composition – something most traveling photography enthusiasts suffer from.

If you’re a professional travel photographer, chances are that you already know most of the hacks we’re going to mention. However, if you’re an enthusiast who’d like to take their photography skills to the next level, this article is for you.

Today, you’ll learn one of the most effective composition tricks that will give your photo a more professional look, regardless of the type of camera you have – even if you’re using a smartphone!

In this post, we’ll define what the Rule of thirds is, how to set your camera to leverage it, and how to use it to take great photos with minimum effort. We will show you a few examples of how it’s used in travel photography, and provide 8 tips to use it in a more efficient way.

Table of Contents

What is The Rule of Thirds?

Rule of thirds is a photo composition type that helps you take a nice looking photo in the fastest possible way

Basically, the Rule of thirds looks at a photo through a 3×3 grid which enables you to quickly identify visible points of interest. This helps you create photos which emphasize the natural way of how people look at an image (from left to right). 

By using this Rule, the grid virtually divides the image into 9 parts. For the best looking photo your subject should be placed within one of these 9 parts or within 4 intersection points.

Rule of thirds - 9x9 grid

Using this Rule you will avoid taking boring shots where the subject is placed in the center of the photo. However, central composition could be used from time to time, but in many cases it is not the best way to take nice photos. 

Instead, the Rule of thirds will enable you to place the subject off-center, to have more blank space, and will give your photo a more natural look.

Why The Rule of Thirds is Important in Travel Photography?

Rule of thirds - Example 2

Travel photography is one of the most interesting areas in photography. You visit new places, have fun, explore different cultures, look at great landscapes, walk in new cities. These moments will turn into memories, while nice photos which catch the atmosphere.

But the greatest challenge is tight time, because you want to see/explore too many things while you travel. You might also have your company (family, partner, friend) who don’t like to spend too much time taking photos (we have all been there), you have limited days of vacation, and who knows what else. 

This will require you to be more organized and ready to take great photos quickly. That’s exactly why it is important to learn and practice the Rule of thirds in every situation.

Remember, the Rule of thirds will enable you to compose and take great photos in the fastest way

So, if you want to use spare time on your business trip, or to explore a lot of places when you don’t have enough time and take great photos, or if you travel with your family, partner or friends that are not happy if you pay more attention to your camera than to them, mastering the Rule of thirds will definitely keep everyone happy.

How to Activate The Rule of Thirds Grid on Your Camera?

Most of mirrorless, DSLR or even compact cameras today have the built-in Rules of thirds grid which needs to be activated:

Sony

  1. Go to the menu;
  2. Go to the custom settings;
  3. Find the Grid line option;
  4. Choose Rule of 3rds Grid.

Video source: Robert Wilson

Canon

  1. Go to the menu;
  2. Navigate to the Live View Shooting Settings tab;
  3. Find the Grid display option;
  4. Choose 3×3.

Nikon

  1. Go to the menu;
  2. Navigate to Display settings;
  3. Go to the Grid display;
  4. Choose to On to display a framing grid.

Fuji

  1. Go to the menu;
  2. Navigate to screen set-up;
  3. Go to Framing guideline;
  4. Choose Grid 9;
  5. Don’t forget to enable Framing guideline in Display custom settings.

If you want to use the Rule of thirds on your mobile camera as well, don’t worry. You can turn it on in all camera apps. In order to keep this article short and sweet, we will stick to default camera apps for both iPhone and Android.

iPhone

  1. Go to Settings;
  2. Choose Camera;
  3. Enable the Grid option.

Android

  1. Activate camera;
  2. Go to settings;
  3. Tap on the Grid lines/Assistive grid switch to enable it.
How to activate grid lines on Android phone

The Next Step - Apply The Concept

Your default set up on all your gears (camera + phone) should appear like this:

Grid lines - Live view on smartphone camera

The next step is PRACTICE

You should internalize the concept of the Rule of thirds. Probably in the beginning you will be always thinking about it. But after a while, you will use this Rule ‘in a blind’, which means that your photographer’s brain will simply start thinking in that way, with a Rule of thirds in mind every time.

6 Tips for More Effective Usage of The Rule of Thirds in Your Travel Photos

Rule of thirds - Example 3
  1. Set the Rule of thirds grid on all your photo gears;

  2. Try to apply the Rule of thirds once you take a photo. But if you don’t use it properly while taking a picture don’t worry about it too much. You can always crop and adjust photos in post-processing software (Adobe Photoshop, Gimp, Snapseed, etc.);

  3. Be sure that you left enough of white space in the frame. The photo will appear better if there is enough space to breath and you will also get more space if you want to crop it in post processing;

  4. Try to put the subject in an intersection of lines or along the line (depends on size of the subject);

  5. If you have a visible horizon in the photo, place it along the line instead of the center of the photo. With horizon on the line photos will appear nicer and with more natural composition;

  6. Don’t stick to the Rule of thirds in every photo. Once you are sure in yourself and your photo skills you can break the Rule from time to time. Also, some photos will seem more spontaneous without it. In some cases, central or edge composition will be more effective. But I need to stress it out for you – break the Rule once you’ve mastered it, not earlier!

Conclusion

The Rule of thirds is definitely one of the most effective photo composition techniques. You can use it in plenty of situations when you don’t have a lot of time to prepare yourself to take great photos. Especially when you are traveling and want to avoid having a lot of boring snapshots.

You learnt how simple it is to set the Rule of thirds on your camera, no matter if you use a DSLR/mirrorless or just a camera on your mobile phone, to leverage it using a 3×3 grid. The only thing left is practice.

Do you use any other photo composition technique while you travel? Do you have any other tips on how to take better and more professional looking photos when you don’t have enough time to prepare yourself (like most of us when we are on vacation or business travel, but want to take nice photos)?

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