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Car Photography Lab: The Rule of Thirds

By: jwilder

car photography rule of thirds 00
2016 Dodge Challenger. Sony a6000. Settings f/5.6 1/800 ISO100 82mm. Photo by j.wilder.

Car Photography Lab

Composition is the most important skill in photography.

You can learn composition with any camera.

I think the easiest and most powerful way to learn about composition is to start with the "Rule of Thirds."

Say Cheese

We typically gain experience in photography from taking photos of our family and friends. What do we do? We raise our camera (or phone), center the person and click the button. We do this over and over without really thinking about it.

Since we were never enlightened about composition, we just used our "center everything" style for every photo; the car, the cat, the house, the horse, whatever, we just put it in the center and click.

Now, it’s time to break free of this behavior and start to see the world in new, and honestly, more interesting ways.

The rule of thirds is the first composition technique I learned, and the one I apply the most.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is simply one of many composition techniques. When applied, it can make an image more interesting (or natural) to the eye. It can be applied to photography as well as other types of art.

Because the rule of thirds is so easy to understand and apply, it's a great way to increase your awareness of composing a photo.

The rule of thirds essentially divides your camera screen into a grid of horizontal and vertical thirds. If you simply envision a TicTacToe grid on your photo you can easily understand the concept.

One way to use the rule of thirds is to place the object you are photographing at one of the intersecting gridlines.

Another way to use the rule of thirds for a landscape photo is to place the horizion along the top or the bottom horizontal gridline.

Note that most all cameras (and smart phones) have a feature that allows the rule of thirds grid to be placed on the screen.

That's about all there is to it.

Examples

I have included a few photos along with some thoughts.

car photography rule of thirds 00
In this case I placed the car at the bottom left grid intersection. Placing the car on the left side is more natural because the car has room to move forward (in our mind). This is another composition tip called Lead Room, Nose Room or Looking Space. I will discuss that in a future article.

car photography rule of thirds 02
This is the same photo without the gridlines.

car photography rule of thirds 01
In this case, I placed the car vertically in the middle, and horizontally to the left. I wanted to show more of the blurry foreground. Also, placing the car vertically in the middle adds a bit of tension.

car photography rule of thirds 03
There is nothing wrong with placing the car in the center of the frame. But when you do, your eyes are immediately drawn to the car, and you don't look at the rest of the photo. The center commands attention, and there is no reason to look further.

However, if you place the car along the grid (off center), your eyes look at the car, and then look at the rest of the photo for additional details, such as the fall colors on the tree.

Conclusion

You are the artist. You can place the car anywhere on the screen you please.

Sometimes the center is exactly where you want the car. Sometimes you want to fill the whole frame with the car.

The rule of thirds is simply a well established guideline that gives you more options in composing your photos.

The rule of thirds is the first composition technique I learned, and the one I apply the most. The real value for me is that it forced me to step back from the car and see the bigger picture.

Composition is the most important skill in photography.

You can learn composition with any camera.

I think the easiest and most powerful way to learn about composition is to start with the "Rule of Thirds."

If you are new to photography you might want to check out this article that focuses on Car Photography Tips for Beginners.

Keep shooting.

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