Rule of Thirds: Create Elegant Presentation Slides Using this Composition Technique

Unless you are a photographer, chances are that you may be unaware of the composition technique called the Rule of Thirds. It’s a big deal in the photography world. Anybody enrolled in a design school or photography course will learn this rule at the outset and perhaps create all artistic work based on this principle. But is it really a big deal for presenters? Very few presenters click pictures themselves for their presentations. Most of us just download and use photos available on the internet.

That said, the Rule of Thirds may be a big deal for presenters too. We have to choose images for our slides after all, and imagery plays a big deal in presentation design. But images aren’t all that we put in a PowerPoint slide. We add our text too and often this is done recklessly. So you’ll find text falling all over the image or the image squeezed to make way for some more content. The result is a chaotic, ugly slide that does not do justification to the image or text. The Rule of Thirds will help us differentiate a great image from a so-so image. It will also help us improve our slide layouts and create balanced, visually appealing slides.

Here are comparison of slides created without the rule of thirds principle and with it:

There was nothing wrong with the image in Don’t but the centre position interfered with placing of text. By placing the woman on the right, that problem is solved and the text and visual get the attention they deserve. Here are some more examples of Rule of Thirds helping create an elegant design:

When you can’t crop the image to make it follow the Rule of Thirds, change the image and find a one which follows the principle, like in the slide below:

So, what is the Rule of Thirds after all?

The Rule of Thirds is a composition technique used to compose visually striking photos. It involves dividing an image into thirds using two horizontal and vertical lines so that you are left with 9 equal parts. Place the most important elements of your slide on the points where the lines intersect (called Power Points) or along the lines for better impact. Check out the Rule of Thirds in action below:

Now, the building is not exactly falling on the intersection points. It is near to those points and occupying one-third of the picture. The text has been placed along the horizontal lines. Research says these power points and areas are the positions where viewer’s eyes lingers the most.

Also read: 3 Design Hacks to Make Images Bleed in Your Presentation

The Rule of Thirds followers believe that the centre position is not the best one for placing your subject. It ends up looking like a mugshot if it is shot of a person. Keeping the most important element in your image off-centred, according to these experts, creates more interest, the image looks more composed and professional, and creates better interaction between foreground and background. It also results in better interaction between the audience and the slide. Audiences are forced to spend more time on the asymmetrical layout rendered by the rule of thirds and see how the elements on the slide interact with each other.

P.S. The Rule of Thirds in presentation design applies not just to images but to each slide element- text, icon, company logo, or a shape.

Applying the Rule of Thirds to Images

Let’s see some rule of thirds examples in photography:

In the above example, the top left intersection is where the subject has been placed. Experts say this is where the audience attention is drawn first, so it’s useful to place the subject’s eyes in the top left intersection. Here are some examples of images that use the rule of thirds:

Right Intersections

In the image below, the windmill is placed in the right half giving a much better impression than one if it had been placed in the centre.

Bottom Right Intersection

The Rule of Thirds is not very rigid. You do not have to place the most important element in the image exactly on the power point. It can be closer to those points as done in the image below:

Left or Right- Which Position is Better?

If you are taking images yourself for your presentation, then you’ll find yourself asking this question. Place my focal point of interest on the left side or right? The answer is simple. But those who have not done a photography course (like me) tend to miss the obvious fact and lose out on creating the perfect image. The answer is- See where the subject is looking at. If the subject is looking towards right, place him left. If he is looking right, then place him left.

Correct Placement of Subject

See the image below. The placement of man and his best friend and the expanse of the sea in front of them creates for a perfect image. Imagine the subjects placed on the right. That would definitely look odd as they might fall out of the slide any moment!

Incorrect Placement of Subject

This was pretty difficult to find considering that most photographers do not create this mistake. Take the photo below- it is professional and beautiful no doubt but say you use it in your slide- your audience will follow the eye movement of the subject and naturally tend to look outside the slide.

If the woman had been placed to the left and the text (say a catchline) to the right, the audience would have looked at the woman and the direction where is looking which is exactly where you positioned your text and the audience’s focus would remain within the slide. Bingo!

In the end, no matter how religiously you followed the design rules, you’ll have to rely on your aesthetic sense to judge if the image is looking odd or not.

Why Follow the Rule of Thirds in Presentation Design:

The Rule of Thirds may have all the advantages of being well composed, aesthetic, and minimal margin of error. But there is one major advantage of the Rule of Thirds where presentations are concerned. It’s this: We get

Lots of Negative Space to Place Our Content With Ease

If the subject is placed right in the centre, where do you put your content- left or right? Wherever you put it, the slide will become imbalanced and look odd. But that problem is solved if you have an image composed using the Rule of Thirds. Use the ample negative space to position your text and create the perfectly balanced slide. Let’s take those same examples which we used above to create the complete presentation slide:

See, the problem of text legibility is so easily solved when you have an image composed with the rule of thirds. You can also place a few points without them falling over the image and destroying the image as well as the slide. Here’s taking another example we used in the beginning:

How to Create the Rule of Thirds Gridlines in PowerPoint:

1. Go to the Insert tab > Shapes > Line

2. Press Shift and drag to draw 2 straight horizontal lines

3. Select both the horizontal lines > go to the Format tab > Align > click Distribute Vertically (Make sure the Align to Slide option is selected in the menu)

4. Draw 2 vertical lines on the slide.

5. Select the lines, go to the Format tab > Align > click Distribute Horizontally

That’s it. The image will be divided into 9 equal parts.

So is the Rule of Thirds the Golden Rule?

No, it is not. You need not rigidly follow this in choosing images. If you have very less content to be put on your slides, you can easily forget this rule and choose the image that best compliments your content. For instance, contrast the image composed with the rule of thirds principle versus composed without it.

Also read: How to Turn Ugly Charts That Make No Sense Into Simple, Clean Visual Stories

With the Rule of Thirds

Mentally split the image below into thirds. You’ll agree that the photographer has definitely followed this principle while clicking the sailing boat in the sea. It creates an intimidating effect and perfect contrast between the tiny boat on a journey and the vast sea ahead. The placement at that point also sends the message that the journey would be long and challenging but fulfilling.

Without the Rule of Thirds

Now let’s take a similar image but one which does not follow the rule of thirds. The below one places the boat right in the centre of the frame and creates almost the same effect (less intimidating but more beautiful) as the previous image.

There is plenty of negative space in this image too. So, that brings us to the question:

Is the Rule of Thirds Principle Overrated?

It depends on how comfortable you are with designing. If you are a beginner, the rule of thirds is very valuable. It can help you create a balanced slide with image and text complimenting each other. If you are an expert at design, you can easily break the rules and pick photos that suit best to your slide and not worry if it follows the rule of thirds or not.

Breaking the rules:

Breaking the rules are easy if you have very less content on your slide. You can choose any image you like and place the text easily without making slide look left-heavy or right-heavy. If the text is unreadable owing to a busy image, then you can follow these 11 Hacks To Make Text Over Images More Readable. Here’s a slide with beautiful image- the famous Wall-E robot right in the centre of the frame.

Centre Frame Beats the Rule of Thirds in Certain Situations

Want to talk about perfect balance in your presentation? Or are you reflecting on a conundrum where you are 50:50 divided between two choices? Choose an image that has subject right there in the centre frame.

Centre Frame is Often More Dramatic
Want your image to be the centre of attention? Then keep it centre, simple. But make sure not to dump tons of text and then complain people are dozing off in your presentation.

To Follow or Not to Follow the Rule of Thirds?

We say follow. After going through hundreds of presentations (all messed up due to busy images and text clutter), we recommend that you choose photos that have lots of white space. The Rule of Thirds will, in 99% of cases, solve that problem for you.

Now that you know this principle, you will be looking at images on stockphoto websites a bit differently than you used to do earlier. You can now easily spot the photos that have been composed with this rule and those which have not (check out a quick assessment of the same below):

So, what do you think about this rule? Yay or nay? Tell us in the comments below and don’t forget to:

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