How to use the Rule of Thirds in your iPhone photography

Remember a couple episodes back when we learned about perspectives, and I mentioned that someday we will get into all the stuffy aspects of composition? Well, that day has come. Don’t let that scare you away. Sure, it will involve rules and some math, but I promise it will help you make rocking images!

In today’s lesson, we are going to learn about the age old ‘Rule of Thirds’. I’m pretty sure this was the second thing I learned in high school photography class, right after darkroom safety. Enough of that, let’s get to it!

The Rule of Thirds, as the name implies, is just that. Basically, imagine your image divided into 3 equal parts both vertically, as well as, horizontally. You used to have to go through the imagining part, but technology has taken the imagination out of it… just turn you iPhone grid lines on.

The idea of the Rule of Thirds is to help you compose images that are more interesting and appealing to the human eye. It is a guideline that suggests we either break up major elements of our images so that they are positioned equally within these segments, or we position the primary subject of our image at the intersections of these lines. If you are new to photography, I like to think of it is a tool to help you break out of simply centering your subject. Use the rule as an aid to help you discover new ideas for your own compositions.

In Practice

Now that we know a bit about what the Rule of Thirds is, let’s look at in action. Here, in the following images, I applied it in a fairly straight forward way. I simply broke my image up into three equal areas along the horizontal axis.

Another way to apply the rule is to position the primary subject of your image at the intersection of a vertical and horizontal line.

What good is a photographic rule, if we can’t apply it to cat photography? No problem, the Rule of Thirds can easily be applied to cat portraits. Here in this image, I positioned Mr. Leans cute ‘Tabby M’ at the intersection of two lines. Mr. Leans is compelling as it stands, but the application of the rule has made him an Instagram legend.


Now that we understand the Rule of Thirds, let’s apply it. Your assignment this week is to make images using your new found compositional guideline. Tag your Instagram photos with #iDBThirds and I’ll choose a few of my favorites to feature in our next lesson, which will be another compositional tool for you to use. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @justinbalog or Facebook to see how I’m using the rule.

Justin Balog is an award winning photographer and filmmaker. You can follow is daily creative adventures at or learn more about iPhone Photography in his iBook ‘Big World Little Lens‘.