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.


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