The Decisive Composition n°1 – The Rule of Thirds & People

Original photo

I originally studied to be a graphic designer rather than a photographer. For three years I studied how to create compositions, whether for a brand logo, a magazine layout or an illustration. I was taught how to play with various geometrical forms like squares, circles, triangles, etc. in order to create compositions. The game was always to achieve the right balance between the colours and forms whatever the need and the visual support. The ‘rule of thirds’ and the ‘direction of reading’ were the two basic rules I was first taught. Then came the study of line direction and perspective through the analysis of master painters, the importance of the colours, their strength and their influences …
These studies strongly influenced my photography. Before taking street photography images, I used to create some graphic and sometimes minimalist still life photographs. Actually, I really think that I was painting with my camera.
Today I still learn through photographs taken by master and famous photographers. This is a good reason to have plenty of great books at home. However, I decided to create The Decisive Composition to share my own experience of composing images. So check out my blog. I will regularly study one of my images in it.
The Decisive Composition is just a title. I’m not pretending anything link with the decisive moment. It is just to highlight the idea of creating strong composition.


The first picture that I am going to talk about was taken in 2007 at the bull market of Celendin in Peru (see above). I have chosen it because it is a graphic and simple composition. The photograph is flat with no perspective and includes two main subjects. It will allow us to understand the use of the rule of thirds on a flat composition.
What made me take this uncropped photograph was the position of both the lady right in the middle of the door and the horse parallel to the house. Then in the background, the wall is made of mud and straw and adds an interesting texture to the image and shows a traditionally made house wall from this region of Peru.
When using the rule of thirds, you always tend to split the image horizontally into two parts. Usually one of the parts takes up two thirds of the image and the other, one third. In the picture below, because I was mostly interested in taking the lady, her horse and the wall, I situated them in the top two-thirds of the image. However, it is obvious that I especially placed the wall in the top two-thirds. I didn’t include the lady’s feet in the top two-thirds because I would then have got too much of the wall. I would have lost the balance between the wall, the ground and the lady … and also have got the roof which would have distracted from the rest of the image. It was pointless because of what I wanted to show.

In the vertical thirds, we usually tend to include subject(s)/forms composing the image. It is not generally recommended to centre any subject, but in some circumstances it can work well (we will speak about it in another photo study). I would recommend first using the left third because our eyes read from left to right. It makes it easier to read. Depending on the moment and what is happening around, placing a subject in the left third can often work very well. In this picture above, the lady and her horse were the main subjects of my photograph. So I zoomed in order to position her in the left third and to position most of the horse in the right third. I left some space around to show more of the wall which was also part of my subject. Showing people in their environment is very much important because it gives you an idea of the places they live. It also tell more about of their stories. The Rule of Third help you to do it.

Below is a very similar composition and another uncropped image. In this picture, the girl is situated on the right while most of the rubbish near the wall is in the right third. Once again the wall position is in the top two-thirds.

Original Photo

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