How To Take Fantastic Phone Photos Using The Rule of Thirds

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It’s hard to believe that one of my favorite photography tricks is something that I learned in my high school yearbook class. But the Rule of Thirds is an easy-to-remember skill that has helped me create eye-catching pictures years after collecting my diploma.

Here’s what you need to know to take awesome photos using the Rule of Thirds.

What’s the Rule of Thirds?

To follow the Rule of Thirds, photographers should envision two horizontal lines and two vertical lines dividing their viewfinder into a grid like so:

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With these guides in mind, the Rule of Thirds encourages photographers to center their photos’ points of interest around the intersections of these horizontal and vertical lines. Studies have shown that viewers’ eyes naturally go to these spots when they look at photos, and placing focal points over any one of these crossings gives photos a more natural and balanced look.

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Good news for iPhone and Instagram users: the grid is built into your camera’s screen. To activate it on the iPhone camera (I have an iPhone 4S), click “Options,” and switch Grid to “On.”

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As for Instagram, the grid shows up once you click the camera icon at the center of the app’s main feed. You can even hem a pre-existing image to fit the grid, thanks to the app’s “Scale and Crop” screen.

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Additional Rule-of-Thirds Pointers

Proponents of the Rule of Thirds claim that this method produces images that are not only more balanced, but more interesting, as they avoid simply centering what’s important right in the middle of the frame. To add further interest, shutterbugs can try aligning background scenery with the horizontal and vertical lines themselves, not just their intersections. Below are a few examples of both simple and more complex applications of the Rule.

Putting the Grid to the Test

I decided to flex my Rule-of-Thirds skills with a few snaps of my dogs; this first one comes straight from Instagram. I aligned Daisy’s eye on one of the grid’s intersections, and made sure to center her daintily crossed paws with another one.

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Note how much less compelling the shot could have been, had I centered it around her face (even though it’s certainly a cute one):

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This second shot not only confirms just how lazy my dogs are, but also uses the grid’s horizontal lines to add even more interest to the image. Rosie’s ears and dangling leg make good use of the grid’s intersections; at the same time, the sunlight on her back and the line of the ottoman beneath her make good use of the grid’s horizontal lines and accentuate her as the image’s focus.

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Of course, the Rule of Thirds works with more than just puppy pictures. Turn on your phone camera’s grid—or just imagine it’s there—and snap scenery, portraits, and action shots with a new perspective.

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Andrea graduated from the University of North Carolina, where she studied journalism and once saw Michael Jordan at a bar. She's currently teaching English in Spain, writing about her experiences, and snapping as many photos of her travels as she possibly can.

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