The Rule of Thirds

Volume 11, Issue 72; 12 Dec 2008; last modified 08 Oct 2010

Ever wonder if professional cinematographers use the rule of thirds? Want to try an experiment to find out? A really, really annoying experiment?

Any introductory text on photography or visual media will describe the rule of thirds. It's a well established principle for producing aesthetically pleasing images. The Wikipedia page includes a citation from 1797.

If you're interested in exploring the use of this rule in professional cinematography, here's a nifty little experiment you can do: take a thin strip of some opaque material and tape it over your television set, about one third of the way from the left hand edge of the screen.

I bet you'll be amazed how consistently that strip obscures the focus of a scene.

Is the same true of a strip placed one third from the right edge of the screen? If it isn't the same, does it have to do with the left or right handedness of the director? Those are questions for another day.

If my proposed experiment seems too low tech, there is another way. Open up the back of your television, like this:

Now, break something.

I'm not exactly sure what, but I don't feel bad about that because the television repair technician clearly doesn't know either. Ours has been broken in this way for more than a month as various hypotheses and repair attempts have all been dashed on the rocks of experimentation.

In any event, the look your going for is this one:

On a much more positive note, that box below the television is a new Paradigm center speaker. (Clearly the television needs to be moved up a few inches, I'll deal with that the next time the repair guy comes; early next week, if the parts are in stock.) It goes with the left and right front speakers that are out of the frame and the new receiver below. And the sound is abso-freaking-lutely amazing.

After many years of using an old (but nice) analog receiver and a couple of speakers for audio, I finally succumbed to the temptation to get proper 5.1 surround sound. This is partly because my aging ears don't hear dialog as well as they once did, but let's not dwell on the annoying. I have a black stripe on the TV for that.

So, despite knowing better, I bought a cheap (not just inexpensive, it turns out, but also cheap) receiver and a not quite so cheap set of 5.1 speakers at a big box store. The result was better, but underwhelming.

When the receiver started misbehaving after only a few days, I packed it all up, schlepped it back, and returned it. Then I drove up to The Music Store like I knew I ought to have in the first place, and bought decent components.

It cost more. Enough more that I really couldn't afford the full 5.1 set, but I'll be back for the rear speakers and the subwoofer soon enough. Because, did I tell you, it sounds absolutely freaking amazing.