One Scene, Three Composition Rules (2024)

One Scene, Three Composition Rules (2)

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Here, I take a look at three compositional standards – Rule of Thirds, The Golden Mean, and the Golden Triangle – and apply them to a single subject to illustrate how each serves as starting points for planning a painting. In each example below, you’ll see just one possible application of each of these standards, cropping the image to present slightly different perspectives on the subject. Explore these “rules” and see how they could inspire new ideas for designing compositions in your own work. What are your thoughts on these “rules?” Have you used them in your own work? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Rule of Thirds

One of the most common “rules” for taking pictures is called The Rule of Thirds. This rule is based on the idea that our brains tend to get excited by things that are not in the center of an image. This means that if you take a picture, try to put the focus of the picture (like a person or object) off to the side, not in the middle. You can see The Rule of Thirds in action in the image below, which has a rectangle divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The intersection of these lines identify regions within a composition as targets for placing a focal point. In this example, the cropped scene gives prominence to the church and foreground trees, as they are located on the right and left 1/3 of the composition. Learn more about the Rule of Thirds HERE.

Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio is another common standard and is based on the Fibonacci sequence (Learn more about it HERE). The Golden Ratio is applied to a subject when the shapes generated by the sequence are used and an underlaying structure for the alignment of the compositional elements. Its curvilinear structure becomes a means for visualizing a composition in a more fluid way. In the example below, the larger scene is cropped in a way that makes the church a larger, more prominent feature of the composition. The complexity of the church’s structure becomes a focal point, being encircled by the trees and distant mountains.

One Scene, Three Composition Rules (5)
One Scene, Three Composition Rules (6)

Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle is a composition standard that divides a composition into four right triangles. These triangles are created by first dividing the rectangle with a main line connecting opposing corners. Extending at right angles from the main line, two additional lines run through the remaining two corners. The Golden Triangle is applied to a subject when the compositional elements are generally aligned with its diagonal lines and intersecting points. In the example below, the larger scene cropped in a similar way to the example demonstrating the Rule of Thirds. Whereas the example demonstrating the Golden Ratio provides a curvilinear interpretation of the subject, the example below interprets the scene’s sharper angles in a more prominent way.

One Scene, Three Composition Rules (7)
One Scene, Three Composition Rules (8)

What questions do you have about these three compositional standards? Share your questions and comments below!

About the Artist

One Scene, Three Composition Rules (9)

Meet the Artist

Scott Maier is an artist and a content contributor to He’s also the author of the instructional art book See, Think, Draw: An Easy Guide for Realistic Drawing and Beyond.

One Scene, Three Composition Rules (2024)


What is the 1/3 rule in painting? ›

It says that if you divide your composition into thirds, either vertically or horizontally, and then place focal areas of your scene at the meeting points of them, you will get a more pleasing arrangement and layout for your compositions.

What are the three rules of composition? ›

Here, I take a look at three compositional standards – Rule of Thirds, The Golden Mean, and the Golden Triangle – and apply them to a single subject to illustrate how each serves as starting points for planning a painting.

How to get better at composition? ›

9 Composition Tips for Artists
  1. An Obvious Focal Point. First of all, your composition needs to have an obvious focal point. ...
  2. Figure/Ground (Dominant/Subdominant) ...
  3. Split it down the middle. ...
  4. Think Horizontal / Think Vertical. ...
  5. The Rule of Thirds. ...
  6. The Golden Section. ...
  7. Odd Number of Elements. ...
  8. Avoid Tangents.

What is the rule of thirds in pottery? ›

The Rule of Thirds

Imagine two horizontal lines and two vertical that divide the scene into nine equal areas. Place key elements on or near the lines or the intersection points. This will result in a balanced image with a clear point of interest.

What is the 80% rule in art? ›

Do you want to be a successful artist? Then try spending 80% of your time marketing and branding your art and spend 20% of your time creating your art. In time, I believe that you will see good results and become a successful artist.

How do you explain the rule of thirds? ›

What is the rule of thirds? The rule of thirds is a composition guideline that places your subject in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two thirds more open. While there are other forms of composition, the rule of thirds generally leads to compelling and well-composed shots.

How can I improve my composition? ›

Improve your composition by being thoughtful, bold and prepared to experiment.
  1. Simplify the scene. Declutter the background to draw attention to your subject.
  2. Rule of thirds. Instead of placing your subject centre-frame, split the frame into thirds. ...
  3. Fill the frame. ...
  4. Diagonal lines. ...
  5. High or low. ...
  6. Reflect.

Why is music composition hard? ›

It requires strong musical skills and some basic knowledge. To create new compositions you need effort, determination, and grit. You don't need to understand every aspect of music making, but it helps to play an instrument well. You should be able to write your music down and create quality demo recordings.

How do you score well in composition? ›

Effective composition writing begins with a solid plan. Teach your child to organise their thoughts before starting to write. This process involves brainstorming ideas, structuring the composition with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and deciding on the main plot points.

How to draw a rule of thirds? ›

On your sheet of paper, draw four equally spaced lines to create nine areas on your paper, as seen below. This breaks the space into three horizontal and three vertical sections. The four points where the lines meet are visual “hot spots”— good areas to position things you want the viewer to focus on.

What is the math behind the rule of thirds? ›

Imagine dividing your image into nine equal parts with the help of two vertical and two horizontal lines. That's precisely what makes the rule of thirds. Using this grid, you must place your objects along the lines or at the points where they intersect.

What is the rule of thirds for painters? ›

The rule of thirds is a compositional rule that suggests aligning your subject within specific guidelines and intersection points. The rule states that an image should be divided into nine equal parts with four imaginary lines. This involves two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, equally spaced.

What is the 80 20 rule in painting? ›

Applying the 80/20 Rule to Your Work Time. Here's what we found out: If you are willing to allocate 80% of your time towards your craft, and 20% of your time towards the marketing & business, you will be doing what the most successful artists and photographers do.

What are the golden rules of painting? ›

Rule #1 – Paint what you love. Rule #2 – Paint not only what you know but what you feel. Give yourself permission to paint it your way. Rule #3 – When painting outdoors do not rush into it.

What are the 7 rules of painting? ›

The seven principles of balance, movement, rhythm, pattern, contrast, unity and emphasis allow the artist to pull together their work in such a way that the audience has a better understanding of their vision.

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