Why I hate the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds kills the fun in photography. If you let the rule of thirds dictate how you arrange your images, there is nothing left for you to do – apart from concentrating on the technical (and mostly irrelevant) aspect of setting your camera. This not only applies to the rule of thirds but to any attempt of explaining composition. Composition to me is the arrangement of elements in your image. As boring as that may sound, it means that composition is something very simple. Composition is what gives your images impact. I know that a lot of beginners are afraid of composition. Don’t be. Composition is what you make it to be. It can be a complex arrangement of elements, all interacting with each other in some ways. Or it can be very simple: a lonely tree standing in the middle of a field with nothing but space around it, for example. There is no better or worse way to compose an image. There is only what you like. What you like defines your composition. Your composition automatically evolves when you create images of things that you like in a way that you also like. The same thing is true for style. Focus on the beauty of creating images and you won’t have to worry about composition or style.

Arranging and balancing the elements within your frame ist THE most fun aspect of photography. Thinking about rules only distracts you and makes your images weaker.

Whenever I see something beautiful that I find worthy of a photograph, I tend to take a first shot without thinking much at all. Just pure intuition. After that first shot I play around a little, adjust some settings. I try to find a different composition. I try to improve on my first shot. Later on I often discover that my first shot was better than the ones I took afterwards. I think the process behind that is like this: The first shot you take is purely because of your gut-feeling. Something made you stop and think about taking a photograph. After that first image everything I try to improve my work is mostly technical and coming out of my head. I think that adjusting exposure would be a good idea – and sometimes, it is. But more often than not I end up liking the first shot more than the ones that followed, even though it might be misaligned, underexposed or even blurry.
Try to quickly take the shot purely listening to your subconscious feeling before your head even has a chance of thinking about „improving“ anything technical. You can always take a second shot with all your settings adjusted.

I was talking to a famous and highly successful painter once. I asked him what he is paying most attention to when painting, his head or his gut? „Gut!“, he responded, immediately and without hesitation. He then went on to explain than sometimes, when his gut doesn’t give him any inspirations, his paintings may sit for months, unfinished. Only when he has a spontaneous idea or feeling does he continue painting. Listening to your head while creating art mostly results in boring, uninspiring work. There has to be a feeling. You have to have an emotion about what it is you’re creating. It has to inspire you in order for it to inspire others.

So the next time you’re out shooting, give your head a rest. Do whatever you want, explore, experiment and – most importantly – have fun!