From the way you or the production crew you’re working with position the camera to the elements that are chosen to fill the frame, everything in film & video production is a creative decision, or at least that’s how it should be.
If you’re not treating these choices that way then you’re not getting all you can out of the process. No matter what kind of video you’re creating, it shouldn’t just be a point-and-shoot mentality.
You need to think of how to get the most out of every single shot, and while the rule of thirds isn’t something that needs to be strictly followed in order to do that, take it from us as veteran NY & NJ video production pros, it can, and does, help.
What is the rule of thirds?
The rule of thirds actually got its start in painting and photography, and like certain lighting techniques and so many other elements from those artforms, it carried over to film and video production.
Basically, though, the rule arose from artists who realized their work was more interesting and well-balanced when their subject(s) weren’t always position directly in the middle of the frame.
They envisioned lines over the frame dividing it into three rows and three columns, creating nine imaginary sections, just like the photo up top. Hence the name, “the rule of thirds,” and the goal was to draw attention to the area of the frame in which they wanted it in a more creative way.
It’s also about the onlooker or viewer. It’s been proven that their eyes are actually drawn to the intersection points more than the center of the frame, so the rule of thirds helps to make the viewing experience more natural.
On top of that, because the rule puts the subject and most important areas off-center near one of the intersections, that leaves some space either ahead, behind, or beside the subject, space that can, and should be used strategically to make the most of the shot, but more on that in a bit.
It’s not just about the subject; it’s about context, too.
While it is somewhat more pleasing to the viewer to follow this rule at times, so many film and videomakers don’t just choose to do so for that reason and that reason alone. That’s usually a big part of it, but not all of it.
If you’re a beginner and you’re leaning on the rule for help, then that’s one thing, but the masters of the craft don’t apply the technique so often solely because of the effect it has on the subject. They do it for the effect it has on the rest of the frame, as well.
Think about it. By placing the subject in one-third of the frame, you’re leaving the other two-thirds available to do whatever you want with. That’s a lot of room, and while you can just use it for some lead room, there are more possibilities than that.
And take it from us as longtime NY and NJ video production pros, one of the best ways to utilize that space is to balance the subject out with context, whether it’s some type of action, some other telling elements within the setting, an expansive view, etc.
Whatever you choose to do with it, the bottom line is that there’s more to the rule of thirds than simply positioning the subject or object of interest in a more dynamic and organic place within the frame. It’s also about all the other, “empty” space.
It’s not a rule that must be strictly followed.
Like mentioned above, you need to think of the rule of thirds as more of a tool or guidance system than an absolute rule which has to be adhered to at all costs. It can usually help, but there are often more appropriate approaches to consider.
For instance, if you’re using a shallow depth of field, then you don’t necessarily need to follow the rule because that’ll do much of the directing of attention for you, or you may want to throw the rule out the window and position the subject near the edge of the frame to encourage the viewer to explore the setting more.
And while the rule of thirds was indeed intended to help make the viewing experience more natural and the focal point more interesting by shifting it from the center, sometimes you’re better off shifting it back.
It could be to showcase a setting with a lot of inherent symmetry or an object with beautifully symmetrical qualities, because you want the effect of the subject staring straight into the camera and viewer, etc., the point is that the rule of thirds isn’t always the best, nor most creative choice.
It’s like they say, rules are meant to be broken, and that doesn’t change when it comes to this one. It’s just that, sometimes, following the rule is the better move, depending on the circumstances.
Should you follow the rule of thirds on your film or video production, or not?
That, obviously, depends on the nature of the video content you’re creating, your ultimate objectives, and the particular viewers with whom you’re trying to connect, but there are times when it generally helps.
For instance, in shots like the photo up top, whether it’s a close up or extreme close up of the subject’s face and eyes or a medium shot of the subject, it’s usually a good idea to follow the rule, placing the character and/or eyes at or as close to the intersection points as possible.
In cases like those, you’re trying to draw attention to those areas and doing so with the subject dead-center could, at times, be somewhat awkward, so it only makes sense to apply the rule this way.
The same goes for shots in which there is some movement or in which you want to give the shot the energy of motion. With the subject dead center, the viewer’s eyes are drawn to the center and stay there, but with some space to breathe there is more of a sense of movement.
Also, in landscape shots, it’s often a good idea to place the horizon at one of the horizontal lines. In those kinds of shots, you really want to let the visual shine, and again, doing things this way makes for a more organic viewing experience. So, it’ll make it easier for the audience to appreciate the view.
You need to know the rule before you can break it.
From there, though, as you now know, there are plenty of other instances in which breaking the rule would be the better choice, and in the end, it’s up to you. We just hope this post helps to make your ultimate decision more informed.
About Us: KVibe Productions, a New York/New Jersey full-service film & video production company, can handle every aspect of the production process. Whether it’s a commercial, corporate video, or a feature film, etc., at KVibe, we always create to inspire.