Breaking the rule of thirds and when it's appropriate

Sep 17, 2015 3:23:00 PM

Ambient Skies Productions Blog

Posted by Trenton Massey

The rule of thirds is ancient, ever since there have been paintings on canvas, humans have almost instinctively been compelled to place their subjects along invisible gridlines (vertical and horizontal) that divide the frame into thirds. From paintings and drawings,"the rule" became a standard in the world of photography. It wasn't too long after photography was born that we saw the advent of motion picture. A lot of the rules for composition, exposure, and lighting applied to this new found art form. The rule of thirds was no exception.


Through out the years, we have seen a plethora of films, commercials, music videos, corporate videos, and everything in between, bad and good, amateur and professional. I've seen a lot of people break the rules and it works out beautifully, on the other hand, I've seen plenty of productions that failed miserably due to their poor composition.



Amateur Misuse of the "Rule of Thirds"

If you were born in the 80's, 70's then there's a good chance that you grew up going to the video store renting everything you could get your grubby little hands on and you probably picked up quite a few terrible B films along the way that tricked you into renting it because of it's genius marketing tactics implemented on the cover. And while watching, I'm willing to bet that you saw some pretty horrible composition, subjects with too much head room or not enough, subjects framed so oddly that it clashes with the moment in the scene. Not only film, do you remember that old training video you had to watch that was so terribly shot that you tuned out completely and didn't learn a thing. This is what you would call amateur misuse of the rule of thirds. 



Professionals breaking "the rule" on purpose

Sometimes, professionals break the rule of thirds and do it intentionally to evoke a certain emotional response from their audience. When two people are distant or someone is lost, breaking the rule becomes a way to tell the story more efficiently. It also comes in handy when you need to fit two subjects in the frame that are a very different in height. It can also exaggerate ones height to create a drastic effect. Some films have even used "breaking the rule" as a tactic with characters in films such as Coneheads. Every time any conehead alien is on screen in a MED shot, the rule is broken to fit their tall cranium. 


"Coneheads" trailer - 1993



This is a good example of fitting two subjects in the frame.


A short lesson on the rule of thirds. Take a look!

Rules are sometimes meant to be broken, but never the less, the rule exists for a reason. It really becomes more of a guideline that is effective to follow and sometimes necessary to break. 

Check out some additional resources discussing camera comparisons and other useful tips to help gain more knowledge about various video production topics. 

The Canon C300 Vs. Sony Fs7 camera package

The right length for video commercials and online advertisement?

Defining DIT: The big misconception 

Straight Outta Compton's DOP chose to fly with the RED Dragon


If you are not too familiar with the different equipment that is needed to produce professional video, take a moment to read this ebook on What Camera Package is Best for my next Video Production below. Our experts explain all of the main differences of production equipment and what equipment is recommended most for different industries.


Topics: Techniques, Corporate Video Production, Video Production Techniques, motion picture production, Camera crew, Director of Photography, Video Pre Production