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'Rule of Thirds' photo contest Final 50

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  December 6, 2011 12:00 PM

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By Paul Marotta
Perfect Bokeh Photography

Three rules for Rule of Thirds: Edit in the camera, edit in the camera, and edit in the camera. It is vitally important in photography to pre-visualize, i.e. how and what do you see in a shot or a moment. And, that includes everything from color to emotion to composition and more. And Rule of Thirds is all about composition: Where to position a subject and how to compose a shot are both critical elements to Rule of Thirds.

That being said, there were many extremely lovely images in this round, some that made the Final 50, and some that did not.

I think I've said in previous competitions that I would like to see some photographers work with a subject a bit more, move around it some, shoot and re-shoot, and there are definitely several here which I would encourage photographers to shoot again if at all possible.

I moved a couple of images into the Final 50 because I liked the moment so much, but chose not to move them into the Top 10 because the element of thirds is not present. I cropped them, not so much because they should be cropped to fit this particular competition's criteria, but more to show how I would frame them. They are both terrific moments, but when "re-framed", they provide more emotional impact and better structure, and intuitively the eye goes directly to the content rather than the structure.

One small way to help determine if your image fits into the Rule of Thirds concept is to open Photoshop if you have it and go straight to the crop tool. Then select the entire image from corner to corner and PS will automatically lay a grid over the image which will show you the physical structure of your image in thirds no matter what your camera sensor size and format. This will show you not so much how to crop as much as how to perhaps revisualize that moment. Go ahead and crop as needed to see the result.


Before crop


After crop


Before crop


After crop

There are many great photographers out there, but a good one to look at for structure and rule of thirds is Hazel Larsen Archer. She was confined to a wheelchair from polio and learned to use the entire negative to compose her images. When others printed her images, she insisted that they NEVER be trimmed. Her Merce Cunningham series is a terrific example of her great compositional skill combined with her ability to create and capture a moment.

The prime reason to learn to edit or compose in the camera with today's technology is obvious: If you crop in post, you lose information. Today's sensors are getting bigger and better for a reason, so if you shoot for publication, for stock, for client use, or for printing, it's important to provide as much of the image as possible.

Other issues that played a factor in selecting the Final 50 presented here include, among others, horizon lines. Watch your horizons; if they are off by a degree or two, it creates a problem in how the eye sees the content of the image. If something in the lower portion of the image creates an element of thirds, but the horizon line still bisects the image in half, then that conflict confuses the eye. A horizon line always seems to trump everything else in an image with its strong presence.

Also, wait for people to walk out of the frame if you have a really great subject to work with out in the country; it's oftentimes well worth the wait. Ansel Adams would wait hours or even days for the right moment in a shot.

Other technical factors I noticed in this round, both as successes and as flaws, include:

  • Watch for dust splotches on your sensor. If you're not comfortable cleaning your camera sensor, ask your local shop to help.
  • If you're placing your sky or foreground within 2/3 of the image, an aesthetic decision etc., then tilting a shot is sometimes effective. But you'll have to decide how much to make it look right.
  • Watch your gamma settings in Photoshop; 1/2 is 1/2, 1/3 is 1/3, 2/5 is 2/5 etc.


Before Gamma After Gamma

Here's a quick link to an explanation of Gamma. It gets a tad technical, but the before and after photos should help.

All this being said, there is a lot of really nice work here. The Final 50 here passed these technical criteria and the main Rule of Thirds criteria, as well as my usual "So What?" test.

Next, on to the Top 10!


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