Rule of Thirds in Film Making

If you are interested in film making or video art, you must have heard of the rule of thirds. Keep reading to learn more about this basic yet important rule of cinematic arts.

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Sep 13, 2022

Jul 17, 2023


Rule of Thirds in Film Making

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Rule of Thirds

Some videos have this X factor that invites you in and keeps you engaged throughout –regardless of the content, subject matter, or production quality; there is just something that demands your attention in a very aesthetically pleasing way.
Do you want to know what that magic is? Rule of thirds! 

Rule of thirds is a very basic composition principle in visual arts. It is used in both low budget, indie projects and Hollywood grade, massive productions because it is a very simple and straightforward technique for filmmakers to use. It creates frames that successfully appeal to any and all viewers regardless of their age, taste, sociocultural background, mood, or intention. 

Combined with the power of music, rule of thirds allows you to create impressive and memorable videos that will convey your message across successfully. You can elevate any content using the right music and following the rule of thirds: Vlogs, YouTube videos, Instagram stories, Twitch streams, TikToks, personal projects, business projects, educational videos, advertisements, and so many more! 

If you want to grow your follower base and create impressive videos using royalty free music or free beats, take a closer look at our detailed guide on rule of thirds below. 

Is rule of thirds used in cinematography?

Rule of thirds is a very simple composition technique that allows filmmakers to create beautiful frames. It doesn’t require additional equipment or latest technology cameras. Moreover, it appeals to almost all viewers: Movie buffs that keep up with every festival, casual viewers that enjoy easy-to-consume content, and anyone in between. That is why rule of thirds is used very frequently in cinematography.

From up-and-coming filmmakers to seasoned cinematographers, everyone is aware of the power of rule of thirds. That is why you can see beautiful compositions that follow the rule of thirds in all genres: documentaries, action movies, romantic comedies, dramas, comedies, advertisements and more.

Rule of thirds allows creating more balanced frames and compositions. It complements the natural movements of the eye: Our eyes tend to look at the center of the frame first, then travel to the sides and corners. Rule of thirds offer a theoretical framework for cinematography while complementing the natural, almost instinctive way we look at and see things. 

When rule of thirds is followed, even the most action-packed scenes are very easy to follow. Moreover, following this rule allows creating more dynamic and interesting images.

A very famous example of a very impressive use of rule of thirds come from the groundbreaking action movie, Mad Max: Fury Road. First met the audience in 2016, Mad Max: Fury Road received an abundance of accolades including the Academy Award for Best Film Editing, British Academy Award for Best Editing, Satellite Award for Best Cinematography, and Critics’ Choice Award for Best Editing. Moreover, it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography and Best Picture, along with British Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

What made a blockbuster movie like Mad Max: Fury Road this special and critically acclaimed? Rule of thirds! Film editor Margaret Sixel says she followed the rule of thirds almost religiously when she was in the editing room, creating her masterpiece. 

Packed with constant action, Mad Max: Fury Road could easily be a difficult movie to follow. Yet Sixel made sure that the action was at the center of the frame in each and every second of the movie.

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The action here is at the center of the frame. Hence regardless of how high tempo this car chase is, the viewer can easily keep up with what goes on in the frame. 

The protagonist is in the middle of a very chaotic situation: He has a metal mouthguard on his face and is chained to metal bars on top of a car which shoots literal fire and chases another vehicle. There are a lot of attention-grabbing details in this scene, on top of that we witness a high-speed, high-tension chase. Yet all the important action happens at the center of the frame, that is why it is very easy to remain on top of the action despite everything. 

If you want to keep your audience engaged in your content, you should pay attention to following the rule of thirds. You can shoot impressive advertisements, films, vlogs and much more following this easy and simple rule of composition. 

From holiday movies to gaming streams, all you need to make your content memorable is good composition and good music. Follow the rule of thirds for good composition and take a closer look at our our non copyright Christmas music library or gaming royalty free music archive for high quality background music.  

What are the 3 rules of thirds?

As we mentioned earlier, rule of thirds is a principle of composition. 

Composition refers to arranging the elements in a video or photograph frame: The subject, peripheral elements, and objects in the background. In other words, composition means the graphic structure of a frame. 

Many details affect and shape the composition: The light, colors, moving objects, static objects, perspective, lines, proportions, patterns, and more. In order to achieve the desired look, feel, or atmosphere, all these details must be in harmony. That is why massive teams in big budget productions spend a lot of time and effort on creating the perfect composition in each frame. 

The rule of thirds dictates a basic rule that allows filmmakers and photographers arrange elements of a composition in a well-balanced way. 

Based on dividing the frame into 9 equal pieces, rule of thirds makes creating breathtaking frames very easy. The main element, the subject, is often placed in the center piece so that it is highlighted. Sometimes this rule is broken intentionally to create an alienating or disorienting effect for cinematic purposes. 

What is rule of thirds and why is it important?

First introduced in 1797, rule of thirds was first applied to the paintings. Back then the balance between cold and warm colors, placement of key elements in the painting, the harmony in landscape paintings were heated topics of discussion. Hence rule of thirds was offered to provide a “rule of thumb” for the painters:
For a balanced painting, one third of the composition had to be the land and water while the remaining two thirds had to be occupied by the sky.

The Rule of Thirds in Art

In time, this basic understanding of composition became prevalent in other visual art forms as well, such as photography and cinema.

Rule of thirds requires dividing the frame into 9 equal pieces. For this purpose, two horizontal and two vertical lines are drawn to create a 3x3 grid:

Rule of Thirds: Does It Really Work?

The grid in the middle is the “center” of the frame. Four corners of this grid are called “points of interest.” Ideally, the main element or the subject of the frame must be placed on these points of interest so that the viewer pays attention to it. 

At first glance, our eyes are drawn to these points of interest. Then we look at the lines in the grid to seek additional information. Hence placing important elements along the points and lines makes it easier for the viewer to grasp what is going on in the frame. 

Human eye gravitates from left to right when reading or looking at a picture. That is why placing the element you want to emphasize on the left hand side of the points of interest creates a sense of importance while elements outside the center grid seem less important, more peripheral to the story told in the frame.

If you want to alienate the viewer, create a sense of urgency or incompleteness, make the viewer feel uneasy or uncomfortable for artistic reasons, you can opt for breaking the rule. 
In order to do so, you should place the key element in the scene in a position far away from the points of interest, much closer to the edge of the frame. 

If you want to play with the composition and discover different moods, you can always try to find different ways to apply or break the rule of thirds. 

What is the rule of thirds examples?

Rule of thirds is followed by many photographers, movie directors and artists. You can see examples of this rule in major Hollywood films, independent works, award winning photographs, classic portraits and many more. 

If you’d like to see some different applications of the rule of thirds, take a closer look at the examples below. 

Rule of thirds in filmmaking explained - Media Maker Academy
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

The key element in this scene, Emma Watson, is placed along the points of interest while peripheral elements are placed outside the center grid. 

Learn How to Use (and break) the Rule of Thirds | Artlist
The Queens Gambit

The eyes of the protagonist, Anya Taylor-Joy, is placed within the central grid. 

What is the Rule of Thirds? Definition and Examples in Film
The Joker

In order to create a sense of disharmony, the rule of thirds is broken: The protagonist, Joaquin Phoenix, is placed outside the center grid. 

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