Part 2 Composition – The Rule of Thirds

At the ranch there are so many great images to capture, (the aspen covered mountains, calf roping in the arena, two-stepping in the saloon, rifle shooting at the range, the list is endless) that it can be somewhat overwhelming. The eye, courtesy of the information sent to the brain can see much more than your trusty camera, so the most fundamental thing to remember about composition, (or how to squeeze all this into a great shot) is this: What you see in your viewfinder is what you get.

Yeah, yeah, that’s blindingly obvious I hear you say, but like most things with photography it’s the simple stuff that if you get right delivers the image that will make your mates “ooh” and “ah”. There’s many a time I’ve seen a guest at the ranch look out at a great scene but not concentrate on what is actually displayed in the viewfinder and as a consequence be disappointed with the result.

Composition is how you arrange what you are seeing in the limitations of your viewfinder and there is a handy rule for you to consider. It’s called The Rule of Thirds. Now, I usually think rules are for breaking and it’s true this one is too, but it’s useful to understand it first and then decide if it works for you at that photo moment or not.

The basic idea behind the Rule of Thirds is to think of a photo divided evenly into thirds via a grid. You might have already stumbled across it. Ever seen those “annoying” lines running horizontally and vertically on your camera’s LCD screen? Well, you might think that the grid is there to help you compose everything in the center, but it’s actually quite the opposite. It has long been known, (for reasons that are quite complicated and much debated) that a picture will look better if you place the subject in any of the points where the lines intersect. These are known as the power points.

Take a look at this photo of Jesse the wrangler and her horse Indy. The focal point (her eye) is right on the intersection of the lines.

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Here’s another one, and you might ask yourself why the girl you notice more is Amy on the left. Well that’s because your eye is drawn to the power point there. Weird hey?

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You can also apply the Rule of Thirds grid to more scenic rather than subject specific shots by sectioning up your photos into thirds either vertically or horizontally. Here 3 wranglers are in the arena. Do you see what I mean?


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Or this one in the early evening as the horses stampede out to the pasture. All the action is in the lower third. The horizon is in the top third and there is actually very little going on in the middle of the frame.


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Here’s another couple more for you to mull over.

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Now go and look at the photos that you have taken that you like the best. Just maybe you will find that the reason you do is that they comply with the rule of thirds….

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So next time you look through your viewfinder see if things look better if you work with the thirds. But never be restricted by it, rules are meant to be broken and here’s an example I like: Claire, a guest from last year,on Rush, making her way through the brush on a cattle drive. I just like it better smack bang in the center of the frame.


I’m such a rebel!

Next more on composition – I’m not finished with this yet…



  1. Kit

    Nicola, thanks for the amazing #protips! As a (very) non-professional, it was great advice to even use with my i-phone!

  2. Michelle Claflin

    Thanks for the advice!! Live for great shots! Always have my camera along for those moments, “hey that might be a cool picture…!”

    • Nicola

      Glad you found it useful. I too always have a camera with me, even if it’s just a little one in my handbag. Some of the best photos I have taken have come from unexpected moments. Keep enjoying the surprises!

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