Think In Threes To Amp Up Your Photos

Red Door by Jann Alexander ©2015

Red Door by Jann Alexander ©2015


Three strong verticals. All lined up, nice and tidy, to frame a red door and offer some depth to its entry. The trio of verticals competing with another trio—the horizontal planes of blue sky, white building, and grey ground—all are putting the power of three to use.

You don’t have to be a math whiz when you’re dividing by three and conquering your compositions. You just need to think in threes, and that applies to:

  • Composition
  • Layers
  • Lighting
  • Color
  • Subjects
  • People
  • Depth

You can amp up the power of your photos if you think in threes. Tweet:

The power of three is especially powerful in landscape photography. Take a look at how photographer Tom Till thinks in threes, in composition, layers and lighting, to bring more depth to his examples, shown here in Outdoor Photographer.

There’s an oft-overlooked way to use the power of three, and it’s with color. This trio of dominant colors enhance a pleasing composition, and achieve depth due to their differing values:

Patterns in Port A by Jann Alexander ©2014

Color Comes in Threes: Patterns in Port A by Jann Alexander ©2014


There’s the rule of thirds, and then there’s the power of three. Composing by the rule of thirds means aligning the focal point(s) at the intersections in the grids, shown below in L. Diane Johnson’s diagrams.

Applying the rules

Applying the Rules by L. Diane Johnson in Photo Composition 


Take it a step further into subject matter. Compositions with even numbers of similar things are often boring; they encourage forced symmetry; they lack depth. Finding the balance with odd numbers of things is trickier, and the photograph is the stronger for its complexity. Just think in threes.

For example, apply the power of three to compositions with people. When your image is symmetric, aim for off-kilter. Does the composition of Smile for the Camera follow the rules of alignment? Loosely. But two of these three subjects don’t seem like the type to follow any rules. It’s the juxtaposition of the three that brings contrast to the image.

Smile for the Camera by Jann Alexander © 2014

Smile for the Camera by Jann Alexander © 2014


When composing photographs with more than three subjects, treat them in clusters. Below, the distant mother and child act as one subject, due to their proximity, and the image conveys a trio of people.

Beachgoers by Jann Alexander ©2014

A Trio of Beachgoers by Jann Alexander ©2014


It’s no accident that the Rule of Thirds and The Golden Triangle employ a trio of triangles to guide the composition of an image. Framing a photograph using the rule of thirds ratchets up its composition in an instant. But layer in the golden triangle as a way of composing, and you’re exerting your mathematical skills along with your visual acuity.

Cheating the Golden Triangle by Danny Santos

Cheating the Golden Triangle by Danny Santos for Doodle


How do you apply the golden triangle? In a 4:3 composition like Pretty in Pink, below, imagine the mirror image of the red/pink box from Danny Santos’s graphic. The pink flower lands smack in the intersection zone. To further enhance the effect, you can use depth of field—in this case, making the flower sharp and the background less so.

Pretty in Pink by Jann Alexander ©2014

Pretty in Pink by Jann Alexander ©2014


So go forth and think in threes when you lift your camera to your eye, squint and shoot. That’s the power of three: lift, squint, shoot. ♣

How do you think in threes for your photos, art and design?

There are plenty more photography and iPhoneography tips and tricks HERE. Stroll through my art prints and paintings HERE. Or just find some inspiration among 45 quotes on writing, art and creativity, HERE.


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