How to create beautiful iPhone photos: the rule of thirds

I’m often asked how I create my iPhone photos, so I thought I’d break it down and give everyone a crash course in iPhone photography. Today I’m talking about the rule of thirds.

What on earth is this ‘rule of thirds’ you speak of?
The rule of thirds is a technique used by photographers to create balance in photos. By using the rule of thirds it’s quite pleasing on the eye and makes the composition more interesting.

Let me simplify it for you. Imagine your photo is broken up into nine little squares {see the image below}. Ideally you want to try to avoid cutting a photo in two by putting the object right in the middle. If I’d moved the building up to sit right smack-bang in the middle of the photo, it wouldn’t be as effective. For the composition to work it’s magic it is best if the focus of the photo {in this case the building} sits at the bottom third {as it does} or at the top third.

Don’t be. Here’s another example {below}. See how I’ve put the focus of the photo {in this case Lacey on her scooter} in the very right third of the photo. If I’d put her in the centre it just wouldn’t look as great composition-wise.

Take these two photos I took of the sunset over the weekend. I wanted to show how if I’d put the horizontal line in the photo, which is the skyline, in the middle it wouldn’t be as interesting visually. In the right-hand photo I’ve moved the skyline down into the bottom third and ta-dah, it’s much more pleasing. It works better, don’t you think?

It can be hard to imagine that grid in your photos when you’re taking them, especially when you’ve got a moving subject {ie little people!}. If you’re using an iPhone {and it’s upgraded to iOS 5} then you’ll see the grid on your screen as you take your photos. You can try and put the rule into action as you take your photos. Start by taking pics of things that don’t move – food, skylines, buildings etc for practice.

Or if you’re uploading to something like Instagram that requires a square photo, shoot away and edit later. Just select your photo in the camera roll and click edit {in the top right corner}. Click the crop tool and then select square. Move the picture around so it works with the rule of thirds. For my photo I wanted to make sure the top of the ferris wheel hit the first third in the photo. Lastly, click save.

On a final note, this is just a guide. Taking photos and breaking this rule doesn’t mean you’ll end up with a bad photo! Experiment, use this rule sometimes, and sometimes break it. I use this rule a lot when taking my photos as a guide, but a lot of other factors influence my photos too. I’ll talk about those over the next few weeks.

Happy snapping! x

62 thoughts on “How to create beautiful iPhone photos: the rule of thirds”

  1. Thank you for sharing! I'm new to learning all these fun photography techniques but you but it very simple. I am going to start putting “the rule of thirds” into practice!



  2. I am ashamed to admit I didn't even know there WAS a crop tool on my iPhone camera roll!! I'm rather embarrassed about this but also happy I follow your blog to have clued in. Thank you. 😉

  3. These tips are great! Thanks for sharing this! I just got my iPhone last month and have been enjoying the beautiful pictures that it takes but now they will be even better.

  4. These are fabulous tips. Being a photographer, I love trying out lots of different apps and then importing them into insta.gram – smugmug's new awesome camera is my favourite. You tips for composition are great – rule of thirds is so important.

  5. I have 2 questions…I can't find an edit button on my iphone in Instagram. Also, how do I find the pics that people post under the hashtag #photoadayapril?

    Can anybody help?

    • Hey Helen. Is your phone updated to iOS5?

      And to find the hashtag you can either click on it in your own photos (so if you write #photoadayApril in your caption, just go back to that photo and click on the hashtag – it will take you to all of the photos with that hashtag) OR got to your profile and search the hashtag. x

  6. Thank you for sharing!!! I heard that term years ago in an intro to photography course (that I dropped after the first class) and never thought about it again until now! 🙂

  7. I am actually going to rain on your parade.
    Part of what makes photos is interesting is when a photos ignores the rule of thirds. It's easy to play it safe and follow the rule of thirds but genuinely you create more interesting and challenging images when you try to buck the rule of thirds.

    Try turning the grid on your phone off.. It may actually allow you to create more interesting images.

    I was following you on Instagram but I've stopped because I'm unimpressed.

    • Thanks for your feedback Michael. In the last paragraph I say you can follow the rule or break it, it's not a rule that you have to live by.

      I'm OK that you're unimpressed. The beauty with creativity is that not everyone is going to love what you do, and it's up to everyone's personal choice on what they like visually – and what works for them.

      Happy photo-taking. x

  8. Thanks for the tips. I'm a shocking photographer – my daughter takes better photos than me. I have been wondering though why my instagram photos were always a bit better. Now I realise because they become square photos after I have used a rectangle screen to take the photos. I'm definately going to try this 3rd rule tomorrow and hopefully my photography will improve. Ta,

  9. WOW. what a helpful post! thank you so much. i always LOVE your photos. you are so gracious to share your technique. 🙂

  10. Thanks for sharing this, I am a simple point and shoot person and I have never heard about this technique before, I will definitely use this going forward when taking my next set of photos.

  11. I love this technique but don’t think it’s valuable all the time. Yeah, the ferris wheel shot is cool if you want to win a composition contest, but if I wanna remember the moment, having so much sky may be a huge turnoff. Sometimes, many times, the rule of thirds seems like a waste of space. But that’s just my opinion. (The beach though, that works because the sky is way more interesting than the sand)

  12. Chantelle-

    Thank you for sharing your tips. If you handed me a stack of 5 photos, I could -undoubtedly – pick yours out. Isn’t that what every photographer strives for? You’ve created a style all your own. While you don’t always have an entire subject in a frame or maybe you can’t see faces because you’ve captured a sun flare, it still holds TONS of meaning. That’s not easy to do. What a great gift you’re handing down to your girls in an entire collection of photos that speaks volumes.

  13. I have been using the rule of thirds for years and years, but wanted a refresher and to read your take on it. In looking at your scooter photo, I realized that I tend to use the inner crosshairs as points of interest and the horizontal thirds, but rarely the vertical thirds–particularly filling all 3 squares on one side (as in the scooter photo). I’m going to try that for the prompt. Hope I’m making sense! Missy is right. You have a lovely unique style that I find inspiring.

  14. I didn’t know a thing about this and I have always, in my ignorance, centered everything (it’s also a little OCD I guess). I will enjoy experimenting with this for the September 21 prompt. Thanks!

  15. I’ve always heard about the rule of thirds, but now with your post I “see” it. That makes all the difference….

  16. I stumbled upon your blog today when I was looking for some tips to add charm to the photos on my blogs.You have jotted down, every single tip for a photography novice like me. It will immensely help my fledgling blog.

    I can’t thank you enough, Chantelle. You have one dedicated student in me.

    Hop over to my blog, I would like to hear your personal perspective on how I go about improving!

    Thanks again!!

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