What Is the Rule of Thirds in a Grid Camera Mode?

Rule of Thirds in camera mode

James Ronan / Getty Images

The Rule of Thirds involves mentally breaking down a scene into nine equal parts, with the imaginary lines in the scene resembling a tic-tac-toe board. You then use those horizontal and vertical gridlines to apply the Rule of Thirds, which helps photographers have better balance in the composition of their photos, allowing them to align the subject in an off-center manner. 

The Rule of Thirds may also be referred to as using a grid camera mode because many DSLR cameras will superimpose the grid lines that make up the Rule of Thirds onto the digital display screen.

How to Place Grid Lines

Woman standing on a beach with image sectioned off in thirds.
 Max Nonnenbruch/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Depending on your digital camera configuration, you may have a few options for placing the grid lines onto the LCD screen, making it easier to create the type of configuration you want. Look through the camera's menus to see if it has a Display command, through which you often can select from multiple display options, including a display with a 3x3 grid superimposed on the screen — hence the use of the term grid camera mode.

You also may be able to place a 4x4 grid on the screen, but this type of grid doesn't help you follow the Rule of Thirds. Some cameras also allow you to see the 3x3 grid through the viewfinder. (Neither grid will appear on your actual photo.) 

To change the information displayed on the screen with many digital cameras, look for a Disp button or an Info button on the back of the camera. Press this button anywhere from 2 to 4 times to find the 3x3 grid display option. If you don't see a 3x3 grid as an option, look through the camera's menus (as described above) to make sure your camera can show the 3x3 grid display on the screen.

Regardless of whether your camera allows you to display a 3x3 grid on the screen or not, you can still use the Rule of Thirds more efficiently with the following tips.

Use the Intersecting Points

To give your photo a little different look, try placing the point of interest in the photo in one of the four spots where the lines of the 3x3 grid intersect on the LCD screen. Most beginning photographers try to center the subject every time, but a slightly off-center photo can be more interesting. Just think a little bit ahead of time about the point of interest and where it should be placed in the shot to use the Rule of Thirds well.

Aligning the Subject Vertically or Horizontally

When shooting a photo with a distinct horizontal or vertical line, try aligning it with one of the off-center imaginary grid lines. This tip works best with a shot of the horizon in a sunset photo, for example.

Keeping the Focus Off-Center

Studies show people looking at photos tend to focus first in the areas around the center of the image, but not directly in the center. You can take advantage of this tendency by focusing on the subject where these imaginary Rule of Thirds lines intersect, which are just off-center.

Watch the Natural Flow

If you have a subject in a setting where the natural flow of the eye will move in a particular direction, try aligning the subject with one intersecting point of the grid lines, with the natural flow moving toward the opposite intersecting point.

Using Multiple Intersecting Points

Try using more than one intersecting point of the Rule of Thirds. For example, with a close-up photo of a person wearing a bright necklace or necktie, try placing the eyes of the subject on one of the upper intersecting points and the necktie or necklace in the corresponding lower intersecting point.