Any course dealing with photography needs to go over the most fundamental composition rule in photography – the rule of thirds. When you apply the rule of thirds to your photo compositions, it strengthens your photo. That’s because as human beings we scan images in certain predictable ways and put emphasize (without realizing it) on items in certain locations. If you have a cluttered photo with no real focus, we don’t know why, but we like it less. We can also leverage the way we put a focus on certain areas to make some photos more powerful.

The best way to see how the rule of thirds works is by using it. It’s hard to believe that this makes such a big difference. But it does. Professional photographers think about composition on every, single photo they take. Their photos just LOOK better than yours. A big piece of that is this trick.


Below is the basic grid. Imagine this laid over the top of any of your photos. The green dots represent where you want your subject to fall, either along the edge, or possibly in the middle.

rule_of third_wecreate

Like this:

rule_of third_wecreate_Grid_Example2
What we’re looking for here is to ROUGHLY line up the subject either in the left 1/3, the middle 1/3 or the right 1/3. On landscape photos you can also do this on the top 1/3, middle 1/3 and bottom 1/3.

In this case we’ve done both.

You’ll notice this shot above has ONLY one person in it. It’s about isolating the subject and lining up a striking composition using the rule of thirds. If you have a dozen people scattered in the photo, it’s a lot harder to create a dramatic composition. Which is why you’ll see photographers standing and waiting for people to move to get their shot, so they can have a clean composition.

Now, for portraits, there’s another way to do this. Those green dots? Those are your POWER POINTS. Whatever you line up on those dots will get more focus. This is used so much that the top line is called the EYE LINE and the bottom line is called the LIP LINE.

Before rule of thirds:


Using the eye line to line up the top line with the eyes. For extra UMPH I put the power point over one of his eyes.


But that’s not the only option. I think in this photo his smile is more endearing, so want to focus on that instead.


So did it work?

Here’s the original vs. lip line crop:


I feel it. Maybe I’m conditioned to see it, but my eye just zooms right into his mouth on the second one. It’s that top left to right bottom scan we do with our eyes. We follow patterns where we look and we WILL look at that mouth because of where it is placed in photo 2. Anyway to truly convince yourself I think you have to use the rule of thirds in your own photography and see the results over many photos.


I know some of you are like, wait, this is Beyond Auto! Where’s my camera settings? Well that’s why I’m teaching this composition trick because many of you probably don’t realize it but you HAVE this set up in your camera.

Nearly every camera has settings that will allow you to use your viewfinder with a grid to help you out. Below are images from the Canon Rebel, one of the most common cameras being used today. In the settings you can create the 3×3 Grid.


And below is what it would look line on your LCD screen. If you don’t know how to set this up in your camera, let us know what the model of the camera is and we will try to help you find it.


Even Adobe Lightroom, the software we recommend you use to process your photos, has a cropping function that shows the 3×3 grid as you make your cropping decisions. Below I took a fairly pedestrian shot from my iPhone and tried to work out if I could crop it in a more appealing way using the rule of thirds (I put the green-dotted grid overlayed over Lightroom’s grid because it was difficult to see in a screenshot).


The end result is a better framed photo than what I originally had.

So keep in mind that even with photos you have already taken (without considering the rule of thirds), there can be opportunities to frame them better in the processing stage.



Different cameras will have these settings in different locations, but nearly all cameras should allow you to set a delayed timer shot. This means when you press the shutter, the camera will delay taking the picture for some amount of time (2-10 seconds, typically). You may find it simply by digging around the menu area of your camera, or you may have to dig the physical manual out to find out how to do this.


Once you have that figured out, I want you to combine that feature with a long shutter exposure to create a night sky shot. Again, different cameras will have different options, but most should allow you at least a ten second exposure, hopefully more.

Play with this a few times. You will likely find you need to make the aperture as low as F/2.8. You may need to raise the ISO quite a bit. Place the camera in position where it can capture the sky and remain completely still, then press the shutter. The time delay helps to keep the camera from moving in any way, which will result in the most clear image you can get.  If you find your first exposure is too dark, try raising the ISO, or lowering the aperture number. This should be a fun!



So your two assignments for this week are:

  1. Continue to play around using Aperture Priority settings. I am loving the results so many of you are getting, so keep at that, but now also keep in mind trying to compose your shot in an appealing way using the rule of thirds.
  2. I want you to use the Shutter Priority to set up a long exposure for a night time shot. I haven’t seen anyone do this in the class yet, but it’s an easy to set up shot. If you have a tripod, perfect, if not, find a table or holding wall or something to rest your camera on. BONUS POINTS: If you want to try something kind of cool, you can run in front of your own shot to get a ghosting effect of you running through the shot! It takes me a half dozen tries to get the shutterspeed and ISO right so that I show up, but it’s an interesting effect!

1Using the rule of thirds, post more photos that utilize the Aperture Priority setting.
2Take a night sky shot with a long exposure with your camera perfectly still.


NOTE: This course does not work if you don’t do the assignments. Just take it slow, one at a time and ask questions after you have taken out your camera and manual and attempted to do it. There’s no substitution for hands on learning. This is not an academic class!! It’s a workshop, so get to work!