Rule of thirds in filmmaking explained

Have you ever wondered why some photos look so much more balanced and pleasing than others? Or movie stills so much more professional than your own attempts with your phone?

It’s all about Composition

The magic word is composition. Composition means the arrangement of elements in a frame. The graphic structure of a picture.

There are a lot of factors playing into this structure: perspective, proportions, lines, light, colors, and more. All these details are planned and implemented by a large team in a professional video or film production.

Fortunately, there is a single simple rule that makes your pictures more balanced and exciting with just one principle.

The rule of thirds

This rule is called “Rule of thirds.” The image is divided into a 3×3 grid, and all the key elements should be aligned to this grid – either at the lines or crossing points.

The couple photo dilemma

A quick story to explain the effect this rule has:

My wife and I love to travel, and sometimes a stranger offers to take a picture of us. A great thing, right? After all, at least sometimes you want to be together in a photo.

In most cases, however, this person does not have composition in mind and simply pulls the trigger.

In this one you can only guess the beautiful rice terraces. (Tab or mouse over to show grid)

I, on the other hand, try to change the perspective slightly. It shows that a composition according to the rule of thirds not only makes the picture more balanced, but you can actually see much more of the scenery.

Here the composition is changed. The subject and environment are aligned to the grid.

As you can see, three steps aside and a few thoughts about composition are making the difference between a tourist photo and a picture that could be from a professional travel catalog shooting.

And that’s why this rule also appears in almost every movie, documentary, news segment, or commercial.

Rule of thirds in filmmaking

Here are a few examples of featured films using this principle. As you can see, the rule of thirds is used in a variety of locations and settings.

Rule of thirds in Movies - Media Maker Academy

Harry Potter, Warner Bros.

Rule of thirds in Movies - Media Maker Academy

Zombieland, Columbia Pictures

Rule of thirds in Movies - Media Maker Academy

James Bond, MGM

Rule of thirds in Movies - Media Maker Academy

James Bond, MGM

But also in documentaries, news segments or even advertising:

Rule of thirds in Movies - Media Maker Academy

The Great Hack, Netflix

Rule of thirds in Movies - Media Maker Academy

BBC News

Rule of thirds in Movies - Media Maker Academy

Transfer Talk, Sky Sports

Rule of thirds in Movies - Media Maker Academy

HGHI Imagefilm

Apply the rule of thirds yourself

To apply the rule of thirds yourself, here are two tips for you:

1. Camera settings

To not lose sight of your composition, you can show a 3×3 grid on most cameras and smartphones. So it’s easy for you to implement this essential rule.

2. Arrange objects

You should not worry about perfectly aligning ALL objects in your image with the grid. But as a simple rule, you can remember:
The main character or the main object should never be in the absolute center of your frame. You should align people within the left or right third and the horizon in the upper or lower third. So the picture looks more dynamic and gets a clear direction.

That’s a straightforward principle, right? And from now on your recordings will look much more balanced and professional!

All rules are bound to be broken

Of course, rules are there to be broken. After all, you do not want to be limited in your creativity.

Even if the rule of thirds offers an excellent orientation, there are particular objects or scenes where a different approach makes sense.

For example, if you want to build a more intense relationship to your subject or emphasize the symmetry of a scene.

Rule of thirds in Movies - Media Maker Academy

Terminator 2, Carolco Pictures / StudioCanal

Rule of thirds in Movies - Media Maker Academy

Sunshine, 20th Century Fox

However, before you break the rule of thirds, you should first practice applying it. The more you use this simple rule, the easier it will be for you to shoot really great video images.

Do you want even more valuable tips and tricks for recording excellent video images? Would you like to learn step by step how to make great marketing videos yourself? Then our Masterclass “Smart Video” is exactly right for you!

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