Picture This: Icons

Alright, so we’ve warmed up a bit now! Maybe your camera was a little dusty? A few of you mentioned in the comments last week that you’ve been wanting to put your new camera to use and we’re glad you’ve joined us! If you’re just joining us now, no problem! We’ve got an on-going weekly lesson plus assignment that will get you out in the field and taking pictures in no time. This week, our topic is the rule of thirds and our theme is icons, so get your camera battery charged up!

From Wikipedia

The rule of thirds is probably the most basic rule in photography. The rule says that you should split your photos into three vertical and horizontal sections with two separating lines, placing the elements of your photo either along the lines or at their intersections. Some people (ok, many people) believe this creates more balance, harmony, tension, or intrigue for the viewer. Studies have also shown that people naturally go to these intersections first when viewing photos rather than the center, so placing points of interest in these areas may get viewers to linger longer.

Why is this photo effective and how has the rule of thirds been used?

Placing horizons on the horizontal lines is an effective way of balancing a landscape photo. Likewise, so is placing a person’s line of sight. This woman is a good example of how the rule of thirds can be used in portraits. First, ask yourself what are the points of interest? When I look at this, I see first the eyes and then her lips. It’s no coincidence that these two points of interest fall on intersecting lines.

Notice how the top line follows her line of sight? Notice how the right line follows the natural symmetry of her face, between her eyes, down her nose, and falls gently on the corner of her lips? And what about the positioning of her face–is she looking into the photo frame or out of it? It is important to consider where the white space is in your photo and make sure that it falls in the direction of the action. The tassels at the top of the image also follow the vertical lines and stop right at the top horizontal line making even their blurry shapes interesting.

How does this photo follow the rule of thirds?

You can use the rule of thirds in many ways–it doesn’t always have to be people or landscapes. You can also use it to emphasize objects or patterns such as in this photo of a Chinese lantern against a painted ceiling. Here I’ve placed the lantern on the top left intersecting line in order to punctuate its contrasting shape against the lines behind it.

Another important aspect to consider is how does the rule of thirds convey a feeling? Is there tension? Sadness? Joy? I think there is harmony in this photo which is likely because the rule of thirds has brought balance to the frame; neither the spherical shape of the lantern nor the hard vertical lines on the ceiling over-power the other. Interestingly, stripes and dots are usually considered at odds with one another but here they seem to be complimentary. I guess you could say the rule of thirds is feng shui for photography!

So, what’s your assignment? This week I want you to focus on using the rule of thirds to photograph an icon. This may be interpreted any way you like but remember that icons are more than merely symbols: icons represent something sacred. If someone asked me what is a NYC icon, I would say a yellow taxi or the statue of liberty. A religious icon? Maybe a literal icon from an Orthodox church or maybe a crucifix. An American icon? Ford trucks, apple pie, or the American dollar. Again, get creative, have fun, and don’t forget to post your photo in the comments by Tuesday night next week!

If you’re just joining us, take a look at last week’s kick-off assignment, “Between Places,” and if you haven’t uploaded your photo yet, there’s still time! Also, don’t forget to join our group where you can ask questions, share ideas, get feedback or even set up your own mini challenges for each other. Okay, get going and make it snappy!

By Thelma

Thelma is a photographer and traveler currently residing in Sydney, Australia. In her free time she can be found with her nose behind a camera or obsessing over koalas.

18 replies on “Picture This: Icons”

Just went out in the rain to get this one, so I feel virtuous:)

It’s a statue of Kwan Yin – I tried to make the line of focus along one vertical third, and the statue’s knee along the other. Horizontally, the head and knee are about a third apart as well.

This is really beautiful, QoB. I don’t think it strictly follows the rule of thirds because so much of the content falls in the middle of the photo (even if the focal point is on a third line) but then again, rules are made to be broken, right? I think it’s fantastic. If I could ever figure out how to donate points, I would double yours because going out in the rain takes some dedication! Thanks so much for sharing!

Hey, thanks for joining us! Yes to the questions! We’ve got a group going on Persephone where you can ask questions anytime and we can all comment or give advice to each other. We’ve had a few questions so far so and I think we’d all like to help if you have some too. You can find it here:

And I hope you’ll be joining us in the weekly photo assignments! It’s nothing too serious but a little tip and a theme each week to help us all think outside of the box and get out there with our cameras.

These are both pretty good! I love how you really packed a lot into the Christian photo but still followed the rule of thirds with each item. The North Pole photo is interesting–I’m not sure if it’s following the rule of thirds or not. In some respects it is as the bottom and the top basically land on those powerful intersecting points but then so much of it is contained in the middle. What do you think? When I look at it, my eye is first drawn to the circular sign halfway up the pole and I think it’s because the sign is so close to the center. I really do like the diagonal movement though from top to bottom, corner to corner.

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