Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Compositional Rule of Three

Three Eaves - Rosamond, California
I'm not big into photography rules. If anything, rules are made to be broken. Rules guarantee mediocre results, while rarely allowing for greatness. People should never look at photography rules as rules, but more as starting points or general guidelines.

One rule that is not discussed enough is the Rule of Three. This is not the Rule of Thirds, but something entirely different. The Rule of Three states that objects grouped in three are more visually appealing than objects grouped in two, four, or any other number. Odd number groups are better than even number groups, but three is especially good.
Abandoned Motel - Rosamond, California
There are three angled beams.
One easy way to increase the impact of an image is to exploit this rule. Group items by three when composing your photographs. There is a significant difference in visual impact between an image which has three of the same item in it compared to an image which has two or four of the same item.

The number three has a balance that we recognize and appreciate. There is a harmony and symmetry in the number three. Use the Rule of Three when you want those attributes in your photographs.
Old Dormitories - Boron, California
Notice the three large structures.
If you want an imbalance in your photographs, do not use the Rule of Three. If you want an uneasiness in your images, group like objects in even numbers.

The Rule of Three applies to so much more than just photography. It is used in all mediums of art, it is used in presentations and speeches, it is used in plays and movies, it is used in books and comedy. Our minds respond well to the number three.

I want to repeat that rules are meant to be broken. I don't use the Rule of Three all of the time. But it is helpful to understand what the rule is so that when the time is appropriate you'll be able to effectively use it.

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