Posted on 06/04/2013

Photo taken on May 27, 2010

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Port Meadow
Thames Path
rule of thirds

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Thames Path in spring

Thames Path in spring
Port Meadow, Oxford


Howard Somerville
That tree is gilt in silver; magical against that dark cloud. Perhaps crop a bit at the bottom to de-centre the horizon.

If maintaining the 3:4 ratio, cropping the bottom would mean losing some of the tree or the water at the side. Also, the foreground path is needed, to lead one into the picture and create a feeling of walking into the distance.

The fact of the horizon being central is quite unimportant, as it is not a prominent part of the picture and the eye rises to the trees and the clouds above. Anyway, I don't think about this stuff: I just take pictures, and then crop them as my eye tells me, and not according to rules that I don't even know about.

Howard Somerville
Why maintain the 3:4 ratio?? Cropping off the bottom (only), about a 12th of the height of the frame, would leave more than enough foreground path to lead the eye in. Rules of composition are not invented arbitrarily. They merely recognise what the eye and brain do naturally and serve as a formula for what pleases them.

while i agree , there is a rule of thumb applies to taking good pictures, Howard i find your shots to be contrived, devoid of evoking emotion in us; while Isisbridge is taking artistic liberties, has a wonderful sense or REAL FEEL. Even though she is NOT following your RULES , she delivers magnificent shots, allow her scenery the freedom to BREATH and to invite us in. And that is my version of a perfect shot.

Thank you for your kind compliments, Kitty. I think this is a case of left brain versus right brain. Howard is clearly left-brain dominant, being logical, pedantic (a stickler for correct grammar) and an expert with Meccano. Whereas I am probably right-brain dominant for vision (being left-eyed) and tend to see with my emotions rather than thinking about the picture in a logical manner.

Howard Somerville
I do not think it is so clear-cut, Kitty. Many of Isisbridge's pictures and mine are very similar, although she has a slight edge over me in arrangement and composition, in part (I suspect) because she takes longer, and meditates longer, over each shot. Even though I've been a keen photographer, on and off, for over 40 years, I have been influenced by her work and have adjusted and broadened my parameters of what makes a successful photograph, and have put this into practice.

But no experienced photographer applies rules consciously when taking pictures. Rules (these are not MY rules; they are universally accepted ones) are useful for judging and for teaching, but composition is a skill which must, and does, become automatic, whether the photographer is formally trained or not.

As for my shots being "contrived and devoid of evoking emotion in us", for whom do you speak? Who is "us"? It is a purely personal judgement. I try to take the sort of picture that evokes emotion in ME. If (if Isisbridge is right) I am left-brain dominant, this is bound to influence my artistic judgement as well as my way of thinking, and I can hardly be unique.

Your suspicions are quite wrong. Rarely do I take very long over my shots. They are quick snaps on automatic. I work on the principle that, if you take at least six shots of the same scene, one of them is bound to come out alright. As for meditating.... Perhaps my whole life is a meditation.

Roger P
I am inclined to agree with Howard, Kitty. It's true that compared with Isisbridge's, his pictures are rather formulaic and are more rigidly bound by the rules and criteria layed down by traditional club and competition judging, but because of, or in spite of this, they do stand out among a screenful of group thumbnails. But I certainly accept that any picture with exceptional artistic or emotional impact will score over one that is technically perfect but dry.

Howard Somerville
Thanks, Roger. I have had one of my best shots -
- rubbished by a photographic club judge who rigidly applied some esoteric formal rule (which the picture contravened) giving no heed to any overall artistic impact, interest or appeal which it might have had. Emotional appeal certainly should (independently of the rules) be a critera of judging.

But, as I say, it is in the eye of the beholder. I prefer, am more moved by, Baroque than by more modern, more (superficially) "emotional" music. Perhaps that, too, is a right-brain thing.

With all that said, i think Howard is right, a picture is like a beautiful woman, we do have our preferences. BUT sticking to the rules very rigidly, insists on MY seeing what you want me to see, no more no less. It is a type of CONTROL i object to. When i look at a photo, i want choices, options as to what i want to see, i want to UNDERSTAND what the photo is saying...I want to see the environment, the mood, not a boxed image that restricts my imagination, insists on my seeing an image I can NOT relate to

In other words Howard, your shots insist on a viewer living in a box, to relate to what you are trying to say, where our hostess opens a world to your imagination, gives us the FREEDOM to see what WE want to see. With all due respect to your Professor, do tell me Howard, who elected him GOD and who decided that his opinions and his preferences are BETTER or more appealing then YOURS is.

When you go about with your camera, decide, rules, conventions be DAMNED, and shoot something that is pleasing to you, something that I want to see, as i know you are NOT BOXED IN, not living in someones else's idea of perfect, but something of your own creation, with the freedom to step out of the box, shoot it for the sake of shooting, for the sake of BEAUTY

And when you look at others picture, like our hostess, try not to be judgmental out of your little box of perfection (perfection is BORING), but walk with her, take a deep breath, smell the air, smell the flowers and enjoy life as is, not try to stuff it into a box, of someones idea of "perfect,"

I would have preferred more surroundings in Howard's picture - more road, more stone wall, and not having the houses chopped off on either side. It is too hemmed in. The road leads the eye down a blind alley, whilst the main point of interest (the smoking chimney) is somewhere else and too close to the edge of the picture. What did the judge say?

And Kitty, let us not get too carried away. All that my picture is saying is that this is a tree that is special to me.

Isisbridge, yes thats what it says to YOU, but it leaves me FREE to remember a place like it OR wonder about the picture, the distances or just look at it and wonder whats beyond the trees...its FREEDOM that does not constrict......yes

Howards picture has a good potential, but it lacks focus, the one thirds DO NOT work here
1/3 would be the mountain, with the castle
1/3 would be a building, preferably one that is identifiable as to what it is
1/3 would be the road and what surrounds it, sort of leading us into the picture
am seeing half and half here

Howard Somerville
For someone who dismisses all compositional rules and restrictions because they restrict artistic freedom, in applying the rule of thirds, Kitty is being rather dogmatic.

I'm more inclined to Kitty's view. Perhaps it is better not to know the rules in the first place. Ignorance can be bliss when it comes to photography.

Howard Somerville
If your composition broadly follows conventional rules of which you know nothing, then it is a vindication of those rules. You know intuitively what looks pleasing, balanced, and what leads the eye where it needs to go. As I said, historically, this knowledge came first; the rules came afterwards to formulate the principals underlying it. Hence the rules exist to help and guide, and not to be obeyed for their own sake.
3 years ago. Edited 3 years ago.
So what ARE the rules then? What am I supposed to do with these thirds?

Howard Somerville
You are supposed to align the principal vertical or horizontal lines of the subject a third of the way up, down or across the frame. The standard textbook example is a picture of the sea and a lighthouse; the horizon should be placed 2/3 down the frame and the tower 1/3 across, so that neither, visually, cuts the picture in two. In other, less straightforward cases, the important part of the subject should be positioned where two grid lines intersect. It is then 'on a third'.

Ah, now I'm learning what that noughts and crosses grid means on my camera! It used to come up sometimes when I pressed the wrong button by mistake, and I never knew what it was for!

I expect this is all wrong:

Smeaton's Tower

Howard Somerville
To my eye, the composition is perfect. I have never seen a formal book of rules, if one even exists, but it could well be that there is another rule saying that the rule of thirds should be applied flexibly, and when. The important thing is that the primary outlines do not divide the picture into two, and in this example they don't.

If I'd learned the "rules", I'd be thinking the sea should go higher up. Whereas, to my way of thinking, the sky was the important feature, which would help to give a feeling of the lighthouse being tall. Only I don't think I even gave that any conscious thought whilst I was actually taking it. So let us be flexible, as you say, and just use the intuition.

Howard Somerville
The grid on the your camera screen is not intended as a template for composition. It is for helping to get horizons straight and verticals aligned, particularly with architectural subjects.

I do tend to develop a lean when I'm fatigued. But how would I have used the vertical lines on the curved lighthouse? And what use would the horizontal have been on this stretch of sea? If I'd lined the sea horizontal, the lighthouse would have been leaning.

Here's one with the horizon cutting the picture in half:

boats in winter

So how would you fix this one according to the rules?

that needs no fixing, the boats and the trees blur the imaginary 1/3 and even though it looks half and half, the boats and trees create an illusion of 1/3, making for a very pleasing shot

Howard Somerville
For a definitive explanation of The Rule of Thirds, see:

Thanks, but by the time I'd worked it all out, the sun would have gone in.
3 years ago. Edited 3 years ago.