How to Use the Rule of Thirds for Awesome Shot Composition [Reel Rebel]

How to Use the Rule of Thirds for Awesome Shot Composition [Reel Rebel]

The "Rule of Thirds" is one of the most basic concepts in composing your shot.  By splitting the image with two lines vertically, and two lines horizontally, the intersections of these lines tell you where the subject of your shot should be.  Obviously, there are notable exceptions, but it's a "where do I start?" rule-of-thumb that helps a novice create visually pleasing images.  Splitting up the screen can be done a couple of ways: most high-end cameras (and smartphones) already can produce an overlay for it in the viewfinder, but if it doesn't, then it's time to construct a sort of "Tic-Tac-Toe" board to attach to the viewfinder to visualize the screen in 9 equal parts.

Reel Rebel: How to Use the Rule of Thirds

Here's Stephen Schweickart talking about the rule of thirds in another episode of Reel Rebel:

The rule of thirds was first written by John Thomas Smith in 1797 in his book, Remarks on Rural Scenery.  It took a concept from Sir Joshua Reynolds, who discussed the balance of light and dark in a painting.  Smith took that concept even further, coining the term "rule of thirds," for how the subjects in a painting should be separated.

For video, this is what the grid looks like:

How to Use the Rule of Thirds for Awesome Shot Composition [Reel Rebel]

Your subject should be at the intersecting points.  For something like a horizon, that should lay right on one of the horizontal lines. It’s a really simple rule to follow. Just put your talent’s eyes on the cross you’re on your way to a halfway decent looking shot.

As always, once you're comfortable with the basics, breaking the rule of thirds can be used to create shots that you want to achieve a different effect.  Maybe you don't want to have a shot that's simply "visually pleasing," you want something that causes the viewer to be unnerved.  The rule of thirds is something that helps you when you just don't have any idea where to begin.


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View The Full Video Transcript:

Hey I’m Stephen Schweickart with VScreen where we produce high-end content to help companies boost their web presence. We’ve taught you how to use your camera, we’ve taught you how to use green screen, we’ve taught you how to edit, but none of that matters if your shots don’t look good. So now we’re going to teach you the most basic of basic ideas for composing your shots...the rule of thirds.

It didn’t take long for the forefathers of filmmaking to realize that applying the same rules of composition to their movies that are applied to other art forms, like photography and painting, would help make shots that are more pleasing to the eye. Sure, pointing your camera at something and hoping for the best can be fun, but approaching your shoot with some rules and a plan will no doubt yield way better results and save you buckets of time on set.

So this rule of thirds, what’s it all about? Well way back in the day, artists figured out that placing subjects in certain areas of the image created not only a more pleasing image, but added tension and made the piece more interesting to look at. They basically split their canvas, in your case the 16:9 image on your little LCD, into nine equal parts by splitting it horizontally three times, and vertically three time. One, two, three, one, two three, rule of thirds. Pretty aptly named rule, if you ask me.

Drawing these guidelines tells you where the subject should be in frame...on these points where the lines intersect. And if you’re talking about something like a horizon, that should lay right on one of the horizontal lines. It’s a really simple rule to follow. Just put your talent’s eyes on the cross and blammo, you’re on your way to a halfway decent looking shot.

Most cameras nowadays even have a built in overlay that allows you to see your screen split into nine equal parts so you can more easily be exact in your placement of subject, be it talent or otherwise. No, this doesn’t record onto your footage, it’s simply a guide for newbies like you to help get their footing.

As with every rule in art, breaking the rule of thirds can get you some great stuff. I mean, look at any Stanley Kubrick movie. He almost always frames his actors in the center of the frame, and it absolutely works. However, he’s a trained professional and his end game goal is almost alwasy to make his audience feel uncomfortable. Applying the rule of thirds is a great place to start, but once you and it get to second base, don’t be afraid to stray outside of the comfort zone the rule creates. A little creativity can make movie magic, even for you amateurs out there.

Now since I just helped you guys make your shots look pretty, help me fund my make up expenditures so I can keep pretty by clicking the like button and subscribing to us. Lipstick ain’t cheap, guys. Don’t judge me!

About the Author -
Chris Atkinson joined ReelSEO in 2011. He is a longtime film and television reviewer, and has almost two decades of experience in the theater industry. He also writes on his personal blog - http://nymoviereviews.com. View All Posts By -

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