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Cropping Using the “Rule of Thirds”

The “rule of thirds” is a trick that photographers sometimes use to create more interesting compositions. Basically, you visually divide the image you see in your camera's viewfinder into thirds, and then you position your horizon so it goes along either the top imaginary horizontal line or the bottom one. Then, you position the subject (or focal point) at the center intersections of those lines. But if you didn't use the rule in the viewfinder—no sweat! Here's how to crop your image using the rule of thirds to create more appealing compositions in Elements 4.0:

Step One

Open the photo to which you want to apply the rule-of-thirds cropping technique (the shot here is poorly composed, with the tree smack dab in the center of the image—it just screams “snapshot!”). Since this is a cropping technique, you realize that the dimensions of your photo are going to get smaller, right? Good. So create a new document that is somewhat smaller than the photo you want, but using the same resolution and color mode (this is very important, otherwise your image won't fit properly in this new document). In the example here, my original photo is about 12×8", so the new document I created is only 8×6"; that way, there's room to play with my cropping (you'll see how in just a moment).

Step Two

While your new document is active, go under the Edit menu, under Preferences, and choose Grid. In the resulting dialog, enter 33.33 in the Gridline Every field, and then choose Percent from the pop-up menu on the right. In the Subdivisions field, change the default setting of 4 to just 1, and then click OK. You won't see anything in your document yet.

Step Three

Go under the View menu and choose Grid. When you do this, the nonprinting grid you created in the previous step (the one divided into horizontal and vertical thirds) will appear in your image area as a visual representation of the rule-of-thirds grid, which you'll use for visual composition cropping.

Step Four

Return to your image document, press V to switch to the Move tool, and click-and-drag your image onto your blank document. Here's where you create a better composition: Using the Move tool, position your image's horizon along one of the horizontal grid lines (here I used the bottom line), and be sure your focal point (the tree in this case) falls on one of the intersecting points (the top-left intersection in this example). Because your image is larger than the new document, you have plenty of room to position your photo.

Step Five

You can now crop away the sides of your image. Press the letter C to switch to the Crop tool and click-and-drag around your entire image. With your crop border in place, press Enter to complete your crop. Now just hide the grid lines by returning to the View menu and deselecting Grid—then enjoy your new, cropped image.

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