The Rule of Thirds – An easy way to make your photos and slides look good

When it comes to making things look good – presentation slides, photos, my house – I fully admit I need all the help I can get.

This post is about a neat trick called The Rule of Thirds. I learnt about it on a course I attended last week on eLearning Design, through the Training Foundation (I’ll be blogging some more things from it later on).

The Rule of Thirds is a technique used by photographers for composition, but it a great way to also structure the layout of e-learning screens or presentation slides. Presentation Zen have some lovely examples from advertising.

It’s the idea that an image is more eye-catching and interesting if the subject is not in the centre. Imagine digital camera’s screen is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically, and try placing the subject along these lines instead of the centre. For example, a photo of a cyclist facing left may look more dynamic placed in the right-hand third.

Rule of thirds gridIn particular, the points at which the grid lines intersect are ‘power points’, and are great place to put your subject.

I don’t know the science behind it, but I do know that I am 100% completely on board with this. I was unconsciously using the technique without knowing why some of my photographs looked especially good despite the rest usually looking terrible. Sometimes I’ll craft the perfect presentation slide, and I can’t put my finger on why it looks so good.

So, to demonstrate, here are a couple of my accidentally-stumbled-on-Rule of Thirds photos:

4

(Having trawled my photos for a portrait example, it is clear I don’t like taking photos in portrait!)

It works for text too, so it’s something worth considering when you’re designing slides for a presentation.

When designing a short eLearning course during this training, I realised our corporate branding template follows the Rule of Thirds – in the front page for PowerPoint, the top two thirds of the page are white and the bottom third is navy blue.

Something I also learnt about was ‘lead-in lines’. This is possibly less relevant to eLearning, but still interesting to know about. They are lines that draw the eye to the centre of an image. There is a little bit of this in the above photos – skidoo tracks in the snow, and the jellyfishes’ tentacles. It could be a road, a stream, people walking along a path, etc. Apparently left-handers prefer lead in lines from the bottom-right.

Since eLearning is such a visual medium, layout and the use of images are really important to get information across effectively and to create an engaging environment. I’ll be making a concerted effort to include the Rule of Thirds in my layout design. As I’m not particularly creative (though I can recreate well), I find tricks and tips like this particularly useful when designing.

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