When Can you Break the Rule of Thirds

By | Published September 17th, 2015 | in FILMMAKING

When Can you Break the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is an ancient idea. Ever since there were paintings on canvas, humans have almost instinctively been compelled to place their subjects along invisible gridlines (vertical and horizontal) that divide the frame into thirds. 

From paintings and drawings,”the rule” became a standard in the world of photography. 

It wasn’t too long after photography was born that we saw the advent of motion pictures. It was only natural that the rule of thirds would follow. 

A lot of the rules for composition, exposure, and lighting applied to this newfound art form. 

The rule of thirds was no exception.

But today we want to teach you how to break it. 

Let’s learn how!

When Can you Break the Rule of Thirds?

First things first…

What is the rule of thirds? 

The rule of thirds can be defined as a guideline which states that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines. 

People who believe in this technique state that aligning a subject with these points creates tension, energy and draws the eyes to whatever you need to frame. 


So when can you break the rule of thirds? 

Throughout the years, we have seen a plethora of films, commercials, music videos, corporate videos, and everything in between, bad and good, amateur and professional. 

I’ve seen a lot of people break the rules and it works out beautifully, on the other hand, 

I’ve seen plenty of productions that failed miserably due to their poor composition.


Amateur Misuse of the “Rule of Thirds”

If you were born in the 80’s or 70’s, then there’s a good chance that you grew up going to the video store renting everything you could get your grubby hands-on.

You probably picked up quite a few terrible B films along the way that tricked you into renting it because of it’s genius marketing tactics implemented on the cover. And while watching, I’m willing to bet that you saw some pretty horrible composition, subjects with too much headroom or not enough, subjects framed so oddly that it clashes with the moment in the scene. 

Do you remember that old training video you had to watch that was so terribly shot? The one you tuned out completely and didn’t learn anything while watching. 

This is what you would call amateur misuse of the rule of thirds. 

Don’t be like the amateurs. 

Be like a pro!  


Professionals breaking “the rule” on purpose

Sometimes, professionals break the rule of thirds and do it intentionally to evoke a certain emotional response from their audience. 

When two people are distant or someone is lost, breaking the rule becomes a way to tell the story more efficiently. It also comes in handy when you need to fit two subjects in the frame that are very different in height. 

It can also exaggerate one’s height to create a drastic effect.

Check out this behind the scenes video from Lord of the Rings where they used a breaking of the rule of thirds to change the look and feel of the characters and the world. 

Summing up When You Can Break the Rule of Thirds

Rules are sometimes meant to be broken, but nevertheless, the rule exists for a reason. It really becomes more of a guideline that is effective to follow and sometimes necessary to break. 

Attack the rule of thirds when you’re comfortable with how to use it. 

Once you feel like you’ve mastered the rule, feel free to break it in any way you desire. 

This is your artistic endeavor. 

We can’t wait to see how creative you’ll be.

About The Author:

Trenton Massey


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We can't wait to hear from you!

The easiest ways to get in touch with us are to request a meeting, give us a call, or shoot us an email.

[email protected]
(480) 420 4368

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