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Cropping Photographs - The Rule of Thirds


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This tutorial is available as a PDF. Click here to view or download it

 

As PDN is more than a digital art creation medium and is used by many for enhancing their own photographs (myself included) I thought I'd post this tutorial regarding cropping of photo's for most pleasingly artistic composition.

This tutorial will show you how to crop your digital photographs according to a tried and tested method known as the Rule of Thirds.

The Rule of Thirds is a well known and respected compositional rule of thumb in photography.

Whereas most 'amateur' photographers tend to place their main object in the centre of their view, the Rule of Thirds works on the principal that when an image is divided into nine equal parts (by two equally-spaced horizontal and vertical lines) and the main feature is positioned according to the four intersecting points it produces a more aesthetically pleasing and professional-looking result than simple centering of the feature would.

The rule is usually applied by lining up subjects with the guiding lines and placing the horizon on the top or bottom line instead of the center. Although commonly known as the 'Rule' of Thirds this is really more a guideline than a hard rule.

The picture below demonstrates these principals:

1

You will notice that the main feature in the picture is the tower. This is perfectly centred on the right vertical dividing line. Also, the horizon in the background is positioned according to the bottom horizontal line.

Cropping a landscape picture:

The usual reason for cropping a picture is to remove extraneous material and leave a pleasing image for printing. This tutorial aims to produce a final image of 8" x 6", a standard photographic print size, but can be adjusted to suit any size.

First, load the required image into PDN. I am using this picture of the Washington Monument.

2

This image was originally 1024x768 - I have scaled it down to 600x450 for display purposes

As you can see the monument itself is perfectly centred in the photograph. We are going to crop it according to the Rule of Thirds to produce a more professional and aesthetically pleasing look.

Create a new image and enter the canvas size as follows:

3

At 96 DPI your canvas should now be 768x576

Create a new layer and call it 'Thirds'. On this new layer we are going to create the grid.

Position your cursor at the top of the canvas, at the position 256,0 (see below), and using the Line/Curve tool draw a line straight down the canvas, ensuring you finish at position 256,576 (you can go below the canvas).

4

Repeat this, and draw another vertical line from position 528,0.

Now, start on the left side of the canvas and position the cursor at 0,192 and draw a horizontal line across the canvas.

Repeat this from position 0,384. You now have your 3x3 grid.

5

Zoom out to about 66%. This will give you some space to work when you paste the original image in.

Go to your original image and press CTRL+A, to select all and CTRL+C, to copy.

Move back to the image with the grid, select the Background layer and press CTRL+V to paste.

You will get the following dialog:

6

Select 'Keep Canvas Size'. This will paste the image so that it is outside the bounds of the canvas.

7

Use the mouse, click and drag the image to position the main feature (the monument) along the left vertical line. You should also position the horizon along the bottom horizontal line.

You may wish to include more (or less) of the picture within the bounds. To do this you can click on one of the corner nodes and, holding the [sHIFT] button drag to adjust the image size.

8

Press CTRL+D to deselect. You can now uncheck the 'Thirds' layer to remove the grid.

Your image is now cropped and compositionally complies with the Rule of Thirds.

Compare this to the original image; is this a more pleasing picture?

9

Cropping a Portrait picture:

If you are cropping a picture of a person you can follow the same 'Rule of Thirds'.

Take this picture of a well know political leader (just a random picture that happens to suit my needs). The object is centrally positioned.

10

If we create a canvas that is 6" x 8" and recreate our grid (same principal, only portrait in orientation) you should position the subject so that their eyeline intersects the top horizontal line and the bodyline follows the right (or left, depending on your composition) vertical line.

11

This is a well established methodologhy for picture composition and I lay no claims to any inventiveness on my part here; I just thought that PDN could do with some different tutorials for those interested in enhancing their photographs.

However, the same Rule of Thirds can apply to creative compositions as well. If, for example, you are creating a space scene - try positioning the main feature (planet, sun, etc..) according to these rules.

I hope this tutorial is in some way enlightening and informative.

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Informative, thanks.

Btw, you can use the grid maker plugin to draw the grid for you. For the size you used, setting the horizontal to 256 and the vertical to 192, for drawing position you select centered on surface and check foreground only and use brush width to use your selected brush width.

grid plugin -> http://paintdotnet.12.forumer.com/viewtopic.php?t=4879

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Informative, thanks.

Btw, you can use the grid maker plugin to draw the grid for you.

Thanks, I didn't have Grid Maker v3 plugin installed at the time of writing.

But given that even the new 'enhanced' Grid Maker can only render up to a maximum of 300 it wouldn't cope with cropped images taller or wider than 900px.

So, if you're cropping to less than 900px sizes then, yes, by all means use Grid Maker plugin to save time; for anything bigger you'll still have to draw in the grid lines manually.

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yay i finally see a tutorial on this. I am a photographer, or at least i plan to be, and I had to learn the "Rule of Thirds" by myself. Thank you for this tutorial it will only help me more in accomplishing my dream. :D

Rec. :)

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  • 1 month later...

This is great! I have been thinking to myself lately that I need to write a tutorial like this. Thanks so much for informing us, the users of PDN, of this common, but vital composition guidline.

Perhaps this tutorial should become better known amongst PDN users. I think it will better the works produced using PDN.

Thanks for this! :)

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Although commonly known as the 'Rule' of Thirds this is really more a guideline than a hard rule.

Sounds like Pirates of the Caribbean :P

Anywho... superb tutorial! I've tried doing this when taking photos but I didn't know anything about thirds - I just tried to keep the focus away from dead center...

Thank's very much :D

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First of all.... I think this is a great tutorial...

but....

it's seems like a lot of effort. It's really not that much harder to box-select what you want to have, then crop to selection.

I mean, if you want to have them right on the lines, sure, but adding another layer and then doing all of that just seems excessive to me.

It's just my 2 cents, I suppose

Every artist is a cannibal,

Every poet is a thief.

Both kill their inspiration,

Then sing about their grief.

- U2, “The Flyâ€

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@Marko

You may have a point there. But as long as you can achieve the desired effect by complying to this "rule of thirds" I doubt it matters how you go about doing it. When I learned this rule in the compositon portion of an art class I took, I was taught to draw those lines and later eliminate them.

"Between you and I... I never did draw the lines." :wink: But I did adhere to the principle.

:D

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Yeah, I doubt anyone is going to come up to an image with a measuring stick and mark out the thirds to see if you're spot-on, so it's not technically necessary to draw the lines.

However, doing so helps solidify the concept in one's mind, and that's what tutorials are for, teaching a concept. Once you've done a few, you'll most likely be able to eyeball it, since you're used to making final compositions that follow this principal. For the learning process, though, drawing the lines serves much like a set of training wheels, helping you practice the arrangement so you can later do it on your own.

I'll admit, I don't draw lines anymore. However, I eyeball all the time. Once you get the hang of it, feel free to drop the actual drawing of the thirds. Just, see 'em in your head... man.

I am not a mechanism, I am part of the resistance;

I am an organism, an animal, a creature, I am a beast.

~ Becoming the Archetype

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is an awesome tutorial. It doesn't much relate to Paint.NET, yet just images in general. If it did relate to Paint.NET more (such as creating an actual image or something of that nature) then it would most definitely be Sticky'd.

Hi. This is my signature. :)

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This is an awesome tutorial. It doesn't much relate to Paint.NET, yet just images in general. If it did relate to Paint.NET more (such as creating an actual image or something of that nature) then it would most definitely be Sticky'd.

I tend to disagree with your opinion that this tutorial does not 'much' relate to Paint.NET. PDN is, after all, an image editing tool and used by many for cropping and enhancing digital photographs. I decided to submit this thread to bring this composition theory to PDN users attention as there are similar tutorials for other graphics programs and, at the time of writing, PDN had no tutorials of this sort.

I do make reference, at the end of the tutorial, that this is not just for cropping purposes but the same principal can be applied to artistic composition:

However, the same Rule of Thirds can apply to creative compositions as well. If, for example, you are creating a space scene - try positioning the main feature (planet, sun, etc..) according to these rules.

I, personally, would like to see more PDN tutorials that explore broader artistic concepts; rather than the mainstay 'cool effect' ones that are generally posted. There are already many incredibly talented artists using PDN to express themselves. I'd just like to think that this tutorial may have helped some of them to think differently when during the creation process and open them to new ideas when it comes to composition.

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  • 1 year later...

OK - this is the first time I've tried posting pics that I've done in here; so I hope I'm doing this correctly...

I like this Tut - my kids are usually moving so fast that lining them up "just right" isn't always an option.

Orig:

101_0125-1.jpg

Edit:

RuleofThirds-8x6.png

What do you think? Did I do this correctly??

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OK - this is the first time I've tried posting pics that I've done in here; so I hope I'm doing this correctly...

I like this Tut - my kids are usually moving so fast that lining them up "just right" isn't always an option.

Orig:

th_101_0125-1.jpg

Edit:

th_RuleofThirds-8x6.png

What do you think? Did I do this correctly??

The original photo is an ideal candidate for cropping by 'rule of thirds' as the composition places the main object in the centre of the field.

There are a couple of ways this could be cropped; the way you have done, placing the bird on the right of the frame.

Alternatively, I kinda like what's going on in the other half of the picture, with the flamingo in the background; this also gives the image some more depth, so you could crop it with the main object on the left...

Flamingo.png

Either way probably enhances the composition of the image, it's really a personal choice.

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The original photo is an ideal candidate for cropping by 'rule of thirds' as the composition places the main object in the centre of the field.

There are a couple of ways this could be cropped; the way you have done, placing the bird on the right of the frame.

Alternatively, I kinda like what's going on in the other half of the picture, with the flamingo in the background; this also gives the image some more depth, so you could crop it with the main object on the left...

Flamingo.png

Either way probably enhances the composition of the image, it's really a personal choice.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thanks for the feedback! Actually the original shot is flipped and I tried to line him up on the right side; but he must not be 'perfectly centered' because I ran out of the edge of photo (does that make sense?) it would have left a small white stripe down the left side...

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  • 1 month later...
  • 2 years later...

I am a big fan of Paint.Net and use it for a looong time. I got me DSLR camera recently and now have many pictures, which need to be "adjusted" -

1) Straight the Horizon

2) and Cropped according to (probably) Rule of Thirds or Golden Sections (keeping the Aspect ratio)

I have spent hours and hours trying to find an appropriate plugin for Paint.Net but couldn't find anything. Only I have found that GIMP has these 2 features already on board and ready to be used. GIMP is probably very good program but I like Paint.Net more ... maybe because I use it for several years.

I hope that similar feature as in GIMP can be implemented in next version of Paint.Net or in type of Plugin ... here is a screenshot from GIMP ...

crop1.jpg

The same is for making a Horizon line horizontal ... currently I have to add a Layer and apply Grid plugin on it ... GIMP allows to straight the image horizontally much easier

rotate.jpg

... maybe similar function can be also implementer in Paint.Net ... just display the Grid on top of the image ... I hope very much at least !!!

And thanx a million for excellent software !!! Will keep using it !!!

Edited by Guerrilla
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  • 3 weeks later...

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