Abolishing the Rule of Thirds [Composition]

As a photographer I've been brought up on the rule of thirds.  Get the subject out of the middle of the frame, use this magical grid and everything will be just right.  Use those "third" lines because with them, you can compose a strong image.


Like this shot, where she's framed to one side.  That's what makes the image work right?
 Sort of.

Lately, since I haven't been shooting I've been studying a bit more into composition.  My sources have led me to Ipox Studios "Canon of Design".  There, you will be greeted with the following message:

The Canon of Design stands for artistic integrity. To put forth your best effort no matter what. To leave your mark on this earth as one of the most talented visual communicators ever known. Creating a future filled with art that can stand next to the greatest masterpieces of all time. To share, help others, and communicate the techniques of design which were used by those we greatly admire, and which reflect the beauty prominently found in nature. Enduring the journey to achieve artistic excellence!
All of this along with a tag line: "The Rule of Thirds Killed Design and Left it for Dead.

What?  Dead?  Wait, I thought the rule of thirds was design.

Image sourced via google search, and from This Blog
I mean, that's what we've been taught.  Rule of thirds came from design, and also from Divine ratios and stuff.  It's all connected!!

The truth appears to be that while the rule of thirds is a strong compositional tool, it's hardly the be-all-end-all of composition.  In fact, a lot of images that have great composition are not relying solely on the rule of thirds, but on a much larger set of guidelines, whether consciously or not.  

There's another tool out there, one that emphasizes Dynamic Symmetry instead of four lines and four points. It emphasizes diagonals, and provides guidelines that will help make your images really powerful, and the best part is you'll know why.  This tool is known as the Root-Phi Armature.

This looks way more interesting to the eye than the rule of thirds, doesn't it? Click the link above to see how it's created and why it's more amazing than the rule of thirds. Image source: IPox Studios.
You can use the points on this grid to line your subjects up.  You could also use the lines to help you position your subject matter to create diagonal emphasis in your image.  You could echo the diagonal lines and reciprocals in this grid throughout your composition, rather than placing the subject matter on them directly. This grid can help you with posing, arranging, horizon placement, and so much more.

This is only the beginning; as the late, great Billy Mays would say: "BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!" 
In addition to this tool, there are many other things to keep in mind when it comes to composition including:
  • Figure Ground Relationship
  • Greatest Area of Contrast
  • Edge Flicker
  • Arabesques
  • Coincidences
  • Gamut
  • Enclosures
  • Ellipses
  • Aerial Perspective
  • Simultaneous Contrast
  • Right Angles
  • Radiating Lines
There are also a few ways to view your image that may help you determine how to compose it, such as BW Blur (reducing the image to black and white, then blurring it to see where the strong areas of contrast are, and to check for high contrast areas around the frame's edge).  Don't just trust me on it, Go start reading through the Canon of Design.  

Are you overwhelmed yet?  You should be if you've been using nothing but the rule of thirds and some good old fashioned luck to compose your shots.  

If you're like me, you've probably been using some of this stuff in your compositions without even realizing it! I would be constantly choosing images in the edit that had diagonals, or sweeping arabesques, minimal edge flicker and even aerial perspective.  But I was doing it subconsciously.  I just thought "Wow, that's a nice looking image, I like it better than the 300 other ones I took today."  I hope to get to a point where I don't have to take 300 images to create the one I like.  Even cutting the number of photos in half would save me a boatload of time in the editing suite.

I'm finished ranting and raving, but if you've read this far and you're intrigued then you absolutely should go start into the Canon of Design.  Let Tavis Leaf Glover take you on a journey of introspective and education. You won't regret it, as long as you use it.