Your Television Could Be Ruining Your Photograph’s Composition (The Rule Of Thirds)

A guest article by Jeff Colburn

Yes, you heard right, your television could be ruining your photographs. It has nothing to do with electromagnetic radiation emissions or the “Couch Potato Syndrome” and everything to do with the composition you are exposed to whenever you watch television.

More often than not, the main subject of a scene is in the center of the screen. This is a very static form of composition. “If it’s so static,” you ask, “Then why do I watch hours of it every day?” Simple. It’s a moving medium and the average image is on the screen for just a few seconds. You don’t have enough time to get bored, or even analyze, a given scene before it’s replaced with another one.

If you want to test this out, rent an old classic black and white movie. Each scene was on the screen longer. Composition was vital because there was no color to distract the viewer. Look at how Alfred Hitchcock, Cecil B. DeMille or Orson Welles constructed a scene. Freeze some of the frames and see what they’ve done. The composition and lighting are amazing. In contrast, watch your favorite television show in black and white, with the sound turned off. See if it still holds your interest for the entire program. You may be surprised.

Another culprit in this “Center The Subject” brainwashing scheme is the focusing screen in your camera. Most focusing screens are located dead center in a camera’s viewfinder. This makes you center the main subject in the viewfinder. Then, when it’s in focus, you take the picture. The problem with this is that it’s a simplistic approach to composition.

With very few exceptions, the main subject of your photograph should never be at the center of your image. The horizon should not cut the image in half, the mountain should not be in the center of the picture and the race car should not be in the middle. This kind of composition makes for a very uninteresting picture, and is often viewed as the mark of an amateur. Even if you are an amateur, I’m sure you want your pictures to be seen as “Professional.”

There’s a simple way for you to improve the composition in your photographs. That is to use the “Rule Of Thirds.” The next time you are composing a photograph, imagine there is a tic-tac-toe grid on your viewfinder. This will divide your viewfinder into three rows and three columns. This partitions your viewfinder into imaginary thirds. These imaginary lines intersect at the upper right, lower right, upper left and lower left of your viewfinder.  Place your main subject at the intersection of any two lines. You have four places to choose from. Try them all to see which works best.

Using this simple rule will liven up your photographs and make them something to be proud of. So, load up the ol’ camera and do some shootin’.

image by Prayoga D. Widyanto

Print Friendly' About Jeff Colburn

Jeff Colburn is a freelance photographer and writer, whose photographs and articles have been used by publications and businesses for over 35 years. Jeff specializes in stock and fine art photography of Arizona, and has his fine art images in the New State Motor Building Gallery in Jerome, Arizona. To learn more about Jeff, visit his blog for photographers and photo buyers at

  • You’re comparing television shows and film though, right? Even modern day films follow rules of thirds quite often. Television shows don’t as much. I notice this as most of the time I see film as a series of flapping images not as a film. I have to turn that mess off so I can just watch the film like a regular person. LOL.

    Good post.

  • Heather

    Great tip. The rule of thirds is important to improving your composition. You can often tell a professional from an amateur by the way they compose similar photographs.

  • Hi Trudy,

    As far as composition goes, usually TV isn’t that good, but movies are. Movies have the time and budget to do this, and have to make a huge profit in ticket sales.

    Hi Heather,

    I agree.

    Have Fun,