I was looking through my photos the other day and a pattern hit me. It’s something I learned years ago, and I don’t even know that I’ve thought much about it anymore until I saw some of my old photos. It has to do with the Rule of 3. Nope, not the rule of thirds, which is more of a compositional rule. The rule of 3 (which I guess could still be classified as compositional), is a little different. Here’s a quick article that I found interesting. While not directed toward photographers, every example they talk about in the article is a photograph, so I think you’ll still get the idea.
The idea behind the Rule of 3 is that objects grouped in odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye. While odd numbers can be 1, or 3, or 5, or 7, the number 3 sticks out as one of the best. That’s because it’s not too little, and it’s not too much. Our minds can immediately count it, without us really having to concentrate on it. While you’ll see it used in graphic design, interior design, and all sorts of places in life, it also has it’s place in photography.
Whenever I’m out shooting, if I have something of significant importance in the photo, I try to compose and frame the photo so it appears that there’s 3 of them. Now, this isn’t always possible but it’s definitely something to think about. Here’s an example:
(click to see the photo larger)
I took this photo at sunset at Trillium Lake just outside of Portland, OR. As you can see I’ve got one rock in the foreground. Odd number right? It works. There was another rock just next to it, but I deliberately didn’t include it. Here’s another example. Same lake at sunrise the next morning.
(click to see the photo larger)
This time I was able to find a place with 3 rocks. There were actually rocks everywhere, so it took a little searching. Plus, I even had to clone away some smaller rocks that were in the photo. But it works. Now, truth be told, there were actually only two rocks there. If you look closely at the rock on the bottom right, you’ll see a rock below the rock. Don’t tell anyone, but I rolled (yeah, they were heavy) a rock that was nearby on top of it to make my 3 🙂 I may have disturbed a few ants and worms under the rock, but I did put it back before I left 😉
Anyway, just thought I’d share one of the things that goes through my head as I’m out there shooting. It’s not something I get to put to use all of the time, but when I can, I try to. Now, all of that said, I want to quote the writer of the article listed earlier because I think they summed it up with a very important point.
The rule is a guideline, and may not work in some instances. That said, I believe the best design comes not from following rules, but rather from your gut. My interior designer mom, often surprises me with her own home. (Since the arrival of the triplets, visits home for me are rare, and when I do get there, usually something is always “different.”) I’ll see a wall of artwork configured in a way that may not seem “balanced” to me, and when I question my mom as to why she did something, her answer will be, “…because I like it, it makes me happy.” Truth is, our homes are our sanctuaries, so it’s more important to be surrounded by things that make us happy, rather than to follow rules.
We may not be talking “homes” here, but we’re talking photography and I think the same concepts of being surrounded by photography that makes you happy, rather than following the rules apply. Have a good one.
Thanks so much for the mention here in this post, and for quoting me (and my mom, indirectly)!
In your first photo of Trillium Lake, even though you point out the “one rock,” I see your beautiful perspective and composition of thirds — the water’s edge divides the horizontal landscape into a top third, and the tip of the rock (with an imaginary horizontal line across) marks the bottom third. Same goes vertically — if you connected a line from the peak of the mountain, through the peak in the reflection, to the top of the point on the rock — the composition falls beautifully into thirds.
I’ve never been to Portland…but, can add Trillium Lake to my bucket list of places to see.
Thanks Cecilia! I really enjoyed your post and it definitely go me thinking about things.
Yeah, I never looked at the Trillium Lake photo that way. But after you point it out, I see all kinds of different compositional elements in it.
Thanks again for writing a cool blog post! 🙂
So true! Actually, our landscaper told us that many years ago and we’ve noticed it ever since.
Hi Matt, I thought the rule you’re referring to is just the “rule of odds”. But yes, I totally agree, there’s something about it. Seeing this rule in an image just makes it more pleasing 🙂
Moving a rock… well, you’ve said many times: “you do what you have to do to make that picture”, I couldn’t agree more! 🙂
3s make everything better 🙂
The sunset photo at Trillium Lake with the rock in the foreground, I thought that was three before I read on. The mountain, the reflection of the mountain, and the rock in the foreground that kind of resembles the mountain.
Matt do you think that rolling a rock in place (which I have no problem with) is any different than cloning a rock in post processing?
Nope. Not one bit. I think it’s exactly the same concept. For me, rolling the rock was just faster. The rock was right there, and it only took me a minute. But cloning a rock, getting the reflection to look right, trying to make the rock look different enough from another rock I clone it from, and actually getting it to look real would probably have taken me more time.
Matt, thanks for the response. I agree with you completely, including the fact that your approach was probably actually a time-saver (although I must admit I had not thought that all the way thru when I made my post).
Yeah man. I have no problem using Photoshop to make something the way I envisioned (obviously, as I make my living with Photoshop and Lightroom). I’m honestly, not even a stickler for getting it right in camera. I just want it right, I don’t care much about where that happens.
For me, post processing is actually fun in many ways. I feel artistic. But cloning fake rocks and replacing skies isn’t exactly “fun” work and because my critical eye gets the best of me, it usually takes way longer than it should. I second guess it constantly because I know how the original looked. So sometimes, it’s just faster to try to make it right before I even get in to Photoshop 🙂