Do You Use Framing Lines

Frame lines in a viewfinder

Many digital cameras have a function where you can toggle framing lines on if you want to see them, and off if you don’t want to see them.

The lines appear in the viewfinder, and their function is to mark off the whole frame into thirds. The idea is that one should strive to place important features of the scene on the intersection of two of the lines.


It’s because, apparently, we are hard wired to recognise this arrangement in nature. We think it is just ‘right’ and we feel there is something inherently satisfying in obeying the rule and placing objects there..

If we follow the rule, then there are four intersections at which to place an important feature of the scene.

Of course, one person’s ‘important feature’ is not necessarily another person’s important feature.

Let’s say we have a man standing looking out of a window. We are drawn to the particular way he is standing. The point of interest is the standing figure of the man.

We have four intersections on which to place him in the scene.

Where is the originality or room for creative manoeuvre if we restrict ourselves to following the rule?


Perhaps it is a good idea to have the framing lines to remind us in the heat of the photographic moment, where the optimal position for the ‘important feature’ should be placed.

If we do that, are we going to forget that the lines are advisory, and sink into the rote learning of placing features there every time without thinking?

We might even fail to see the scene, and only see the framing lines.

framing lines and faint scene

Monet Haystacks

Monet made quite a few paintings of haystacks. I saw a print of one of his paintings from across the room in a doctor’s surgery years ago. It came to my mind that the big haystack and the small one offset one another to create a dynamic – a third thing.

I don’t recall for sure which of the many haystack pictures that Monet painted I saw in the doctor’s surgery, but it is not the one that I pulled off Wikipedia today.

It will do, though, for the experiment.

I altered it in Photoshop by making the small haystack darker and the big haystack lighter.

Here is the original, followed by the altered version.

Do you detect a difference in how you ‘feel’ them? If so, then that is inductive evidence to support the idea that placement and contrasting light and dark can make us feel different things. And if that, then why not with framing lines and the rule of thirds.


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