My Photo Philosophy

The Lazy Rule of Thirds

The Tremendously Lazy

Rule of Thirds

“Rules are made to be broken.”  -My favorite paradox.

Golden Mean IGolden Mean IIGolden Mean IIIGolden Mean IVGolden Mean VGolden Mean VIGolden Mean VIIGolden Mean VIIIGolden Mean IX

I can count on one hand the number of rules I will obey without question, based solely on fear of catastrophic consequences: I turn off personal electronics during landing and take-off, I keep my hands inside the ride at all times, I don’t rock vending machines, I resist the urge to climb over zoo fences and I no longer lunge for a police officer’s holstered gun on April Fools Day. Pretty much everything else is up for debate.

That brings me to the Rule of Thirds. After a tremendous amount of research (I read a book) I learned that the rule of thirds may actually be just a lazy man’s sham.  That’s right, I said it… a lazy sham! On the surface the rule of thirds doesn’t really make a ton of sense, I mean why would a composition broken up into three equal parts be innately more appealing than any other random spattering in a composition?  Well what if I told you that nature actually does instinctively, and inexplicably seem to have a naturally occurring preference towards a specific ratio, a peculiar number, a divine ratio if you will?

Golden MeanTo find the real story behind the “rule of thirds” we need to go back in time, not to the renaissance, not to the Greeks, and not even to Adam nor Eve… even further.  We need to go to the creation of the universe, why is that?  Well I’ll tell you why.  There is a number that determines how a sunflower’s seeds grow, it determines the path a hawk takes when diving at it’s prey, it is echoed in the breeding habits of rabbits and it even determines how the spirals in a spiral galaxy are laid out.  It’s all very simple in it’s beauty and best of all, it’s all true. If you want to wrap your head around it further then I highly recommend the book The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio (Check it out here The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World’s Most Astonishing Number).

Interestingly enough this mathematical principle has been seen in artwork as early as 400 B.C., today we refer to this line by several names: the Golden Ratio, the Golden Mean, The Divine Proportion, but whatever you call it you should notice that it does not line up with the rule of thirds. Almost but not quite…

In other words, if you want to construct a composition where the main points fall on lines used by nature in absolutely mind-blowingly different ways then follow the Golden Mean.  However, if you want to fold up the paper into thirds and have your composition line up with that then by all means, follow the rule of thirds.

Of course I’m not recommending that you get out your protractor and start measuring your images to makes sure they follow these naturally occurring principles, but what I am recommending that you do is to start seeing the world in a way that Mother Nature tends to see the world, and that is in a proportion that is absolutely elegant in it’s mathematical beauty.  If you do then your images may start to be just a bit stronger in their appeal.

The following images are all happy accidents… meaning the alignment of this spiral (called a Fibonacci spiral) was not pre-planned, it just happens that major parts of the composition fall along major intersections or lines within the spiral. I suppose that’s just one more thing my images and breeding patterns of rabbits have in common.


  • John Morales


    it would be nice to use the golden mean, but it's quite heard to visualize. the rule of thirds will come in handier when it comes to events or fast-paced action like in news photography and sports. :) If only the camera makers could come up with a choice between the golden rule vs rule of thirds grid on cameras, that would be way better.

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  • Gina


    That's some extraordinary photography.

  • Ed


    Schnookums you're a funny one lad/ about splitting rabbits (hares -.-) anyways, thanks for the phi tip xx

  • links for 2009-04-27 | I am Jeriko


    [...] The Lazy Rule of Thirds | Whimsical Fashion Photography Interessant, der goldene Schitt vs. die Regel der Drittel in der Photographie (tags: photography composition goldenratio) [...]

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    [...] week I read an article by photographer Jake Garn called The Lazy Rule of Thirds.  Instead of re-hashing the article I will let you read the whole thing at Jake’s blog but [...]

  • Scott


    So interesting. There have been many times that I've been frustrated with the rule of thirds because it just didn't work to adequately compose my shot. Now I won't feel so bad about breaking the rule of thirds. I'll live the higher law.

    • Jake Garn


      Scott! "Higher law" made me smile, I don't even need to look, I know you're from Utah! :-)

  • Twitted by px42


    [...] This post was Twitted by px42 [...]

  • Giant


    I ate a puppy once, but it's OK. I used the rule of thirds.

    • Jake Garn


      Giant! I literally just LOL. Nice!

  • keb


    And what's wrong with Utah? ;)

    • Jake Garn


      Keb, Heck, any avid reader of my about section would know I LOVE Utah! :-)

  • Lili


    Thank you for posting, That makes a whole lot of sense.

  • keb


    Ah, yes. Frysauce rules!

  • Zack


    in the matter of the Golden Spiral, i also recommend the movie Pi. great reference.

  • Indie4K » Blog Archive » Twitter Updates for 2009-04-29


    [...] the rule of thirds a lazy sham? (via @5tu) [...]

  • Pecher


    Cool note! Great thanks!

  • » links for 2009-04-29


    [...] The Lazy Rule of Thirds | Whimsical Fashion Photography (tags: photography design art) Categories: Vermischtes Wenn dich das interessiert hat, magst du vielleicht auch folgende Einträge:Keine ähnlichen Einträge vorhanden Kommentare (0) Trackbacks (0) Einen Kommentar schreiben Trackback [...]

  • Kafluke


    Jake, you are kind of a dick!

  • Tiph


    That's helpful. I'm trying to get back into photography and these are definitely great for composition. Also: gorgeous examples. :)

  • Twitted by ldsantos


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  • Ronald Mason


    I have always tried to use and understand the golden ratio, but I really can't do it, any suggestions for beginners? Thanks SEO Web Designer Ronald Mason

  • Jeff Foster


    Brilliant Jake! Most "Tweet-worthy" IMO... and I just did (Twittered? Tweeted? Twat?) ;)

  • Gelo



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  • sir jorge


    that is a very smart and practical way of looking at design

  • Link Roundup 05-02-2009


    [...] The Lazy Rule of Thirds Jake Garn Jake Garn gives a great discussion on the rule of thirds and where it really comes from — the golden mean. He also shows some amazing examples of how the golden mean fits into his own compositions. [...]

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    [...] The Lazy Rule of Thirds Jake Garn Jake Garn gives a great discussion on the rule of thirds and where it really comes from — the golden mean. He also shows some amazing examples of how the golden mean fits into his own compositions. [...]

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  • adam


    Aaron: CHDK allows custom overlays on your LCD, I'm not sure if it would handle the curves of the spiral, but I thought there was a grid you could download for the major points of it. For people without CHDK, or if CHDK doesn't support it, how about a piece of clear plastic and a pen to make an overlay? Unfortunately neither of these help with the viewfinder view though...

  • heikkipekka


    What I can see, you do not have the spiral reaching the sides of your photos but you adjust it a little bit in every example. I guess this is just to show more clearly the spiral effect and golden mean?

    • Jake Garn


      Heikkipekka, The standard photographic 4x6 ratio does not fit the size of a golden triangle exactly, that's why it doesn't reach the sides.

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    Great read Jake. It's always a double edged sword dealing with absolutes when it comes to aesthetic principles. Rule of thirds, ninths, whatever. It's a guideline. It's also a double edged sword dealing with online communities or blogs. Internet annonimity gives everyone a rather short temper and what would normally be inquisitive or appreciative disagreement turns into "No, you're wrong!" When I show my clients the results of a shoot I don't have a transparency with a grid overlayed on top of the image. Sometimes we have some text or graphics imposed on them but they could really give a rat's ass about how you came about the image as long as you nail it. You brought up an interesting view that (as mentioned above) people dealing with other design mediums are already quite familiar with. There are definitely natural and general aesthetic principles that capture attention. To quantify them isn't even worth it though. The guidelines though are quite useful for those who have difficulty seeing a completed image without either looking through a lens or a monitor/print. I really like Keb's reply. Not the one about Utah, the long one lol. But I do want to point out that when you are dealing in an industry which (depending on your specialty) tries to capture beauty in a very traditional sense it is very difficult to "break the rules". As a matter of fact, that is why I use this handle for teh interwebs. I have the freedom to take a completely different shot of something and if it blows up in my face, no one but me will know. Likewise I can come into a forum or blog site and ask an asinine question or post a brain fart reply to a blog much like this one and preserve my anonimity. It's awesome not proofreading a correspondance 5x before hitting submit or send. I've taken pictures which my assitants and I felt came out fantastic only to be met with crickets during the marketing presentation. That's when you say "juuuust kidding!" and you break out the vanilla. The sighs of relief are literally audible, followed by nervous laughter. And yes, your agent will give you the look of death in your next face to face. I recently shot for Kuwait Airways and for once they went my direction. After hours of shooting planes, friendly models in uniform holding neat trays, and happy baggage people delicately balancing luggage so big that just looking at it will give you a hernia, I wanted to shoot myself (no, with a gun). I ended my presentation with a picture of clouds I took years ago, complete with cheap lens vignetting and absolutely no post production. They loved it. But I only presented it because it was still taken using the general aesthetic guidelines and because I assured them the end result would be different after production work. A friend of mine has shot for tba marketing. The entire campaign (Pepsi) is based on a new concept (at the time) called disruptive marketing. A very "out of the box" type of marketing plan. You see those annoying Pepsi billboards all over town? Yeah, they're meant to be annoying. Anyway, the shoot was planned and tba wanted really funky, ground breaking stuff. At the end of the day...vanilla won. My point? Thanks Jake for pointing something out that some of us may or may not have known. I like the way you voice things as if you're sitting across the coffee table drinking a tall glass of whatever floats your boat. I found you via random stumbling (stumbleupon) and was even prompted to start a twitter account! For someone as 'puter averse as I am that's a biggie!

    • Jake Garn


      Beebeeich, Thanks for the great observations and anecdotes! Also, I appreciate that you noticed my decision not to approach the blogging world with tip-toes and corporate buzz-words. Life is at it's most fun when I get to be myself and treat everything with a bit of irreverence and blogging is no different... at least for me. I actually felt that I hit an important milestone when my blog started attracting the negativity and I had a tremendous amount of fun poking certain people with a verbal stick so-to-speak! :-) I sent you a direct message on Twitter requesting that you privately unveil your own anonymity so I can check out your work and I'm looking forward to your response! -Jake

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  • Link Roundup 05-02-2009 « Photography


    [...] The Lazy Rule of Thirds Jake Garn Jake Garn gives a great discussion on the rule of thirds and where it really comes from — the golden mean. He also shows some amazing examples of how the golden mean fits into his own compositions. [...]

  • Rule of Thirds - LAZY? | Powered Production


    [...] it has striking composition if it was using the “Rule of Thirds”. I saw a post today (found here) that called the Rule of Thirds both lazy and a sham… While I agree that all rules are made [...]

  • tim atherton


    Or Atget's utterly entrancing tree in Parc de Sceaux

  • The golden mean «


    [...] golden mean Published May 22, 2009 photography 0 Comments Interesting article about the golden [...]

  • Latente


    i always use the Andreas Feininger (Principles of Composition,1973) rule of 5:8 more close to golden ration than 3:2 rule. in photoshop set up a grid as 7,69% and take 5 or 8 square as reference. hi Michele.

  • 1/3rd rule | Photodesk


    [...] The 1/3rd rule is one of the most important rules in photography. It describes how to seperate your picture by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections [Wikipedia: Rule of thirds]. As i don’t see the need to explain this rule again and again, get more and detailed informations about this here. [...]

  • Isa


    The only reason I would disagree with you about the rule of thirds being a sham is because it leads to a grid-based approach to photography. By expanding the concept to be.. the rule of 8ths for instance, you are then handed a very easy-to-use system for placing subjects or points of interest within a photograph.

    • Jake Garn


      Isa, No doubt about it, some compositional guidelines are better than no compositional guidelines and the rule of 8ths would be a much better system especially since 5/8 is a much closer approximation to the true Golden Mean.

  • ega


    Good...really brillian you genious people?...

  • Jessica


    Even the layout of the pyramids of Egypt are laid out in the Fibonacci spiral too (Take a look at an aerial shot and you'll see it, the sphinx is on the golden mean line). As is the Milky Way Galaxy. I wonder if art that follows this pattern is lovely to many because it is a part of our very being? That is more rhetorical, but it makes you wonder.

  • Monthly Interesting Links Roundup (April 2009)


    [...] one to follow, Rule of thirds or Golden Ration? Strangely most photography sites recommend the rule of thirds over the golden ratio to beginners. [...]

  • Aric Berger Photography- A Journey of Life and Memories » A Link and A Rant


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  • Celebrity Sound Alike by ericsaints » Red And White Bougainvillaea Studies


    [...] of Thirds and are tired of it, you might want to consider applying a more surprising approach with the Fibonacci spiral in mind. Note though that even the author of that post admits that the images he exhibits were [...]

  • Maik Blume


    Great posting. Maik

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