What if the Rule of Thirds Was a Massive Con Intended to Ruin Your Creativity?

The rule of thirds has been lapped up by budding photographers for decades. What if it was invented by Pablo Picasso and other fine art masters to destroy everyone else’s artistic potential?

This humorous video by Tavis Leaf Glover puts an amusing spin on the somewhat tired rule of thirds that has dominated photography education for years.

A few things to take with you into this video: In 1797, English painter and engraver John Thomas Smith published a treatise entitled Remarks on Rural Scenery. The book outlines some of his formalized approaches to composition and features the earliest known reference to the rule of thirds. It also mentions that parts of every image should be as light and as dark as possible.

If you’ve been anywhere near the internet in the last five years, you will recognize the interview used widely as a meme. The piece aired on Spanish television in 2001 and featured Spanish comedian and actor Juan Joya Borja, better known as El Risitas — literally, “he giggles.” In the interview, Borja recalls an incident working as a kitchen porter when some paella pans were left in the sea to soak and ended up being taken out by the tide.

Is it time to remove the rule of thirds from our photography textbooks? Let us know in the comments below.

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7 Comments

Denni Russel's picture

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. This blatant attempt to rial up all us online fools is just as idiotic as any other 'all or nothing' stupid discussions re photography online.

Hector Belfort's picture

Juan only died recently. He certainly made a lot of people laugh . Rules of thirds is only a suggestion , people are free to compose the image anyway they want. Very artificial feel to these articles/videos. Do more people click these click bait articles than a well written article? There are a lot of good writers and video makers out there that I’d happily sit through ads for.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

Forget about all the rules and make images you like and that look great to you. Crop in camera or crop in post. Use any camera, enjoy! No joke!

Chase Wilson's picture

Will the folks that reject formal composition in photography also reject narrative plot structure in movies? A story told in three acts is so constrained, real directors simply film what feels good in the moment.

Will those same folks reject outright all of pop music, rock &roll, hip hop and rap - as jazz is the only genre worth appreciating. Time signatures and melody are straight-jackets for creativity. Real men don’t learn music theory, or practice scales, chord progressions or keys. That’s all a distraction.

C Fisher's picture

That was hilarious, fake or not it does make you wonder if some old guys decades ago decided to play a joke on us.

jim hughes's picture

it's really much older than Picasso, and is part of a more complex concept called the "armature". I have a blog post on this:
https://jimhphoto.com/index.php/2020/02/05/rule-of-thirds-and-the-armature/

Douglas Goodhill's picture

Any compositional tool has to be a joke, such things are felt, not known.