The 3° / 30° Rule in Composition

There are many rules or suggestions in photo composition today such as the  Rule of Thirds or the Rule of Odds. However there is one rule that is well established that I have never seen it documented. Let’s call this The  3° / 30° Rule!  Obviously this is a a rule of degrees which means that certain parameters, things are good, while within others, things rapidly go bad.

The first of these relates to almost any image, but landscapes in particular. Everyone knows that photos must be straight, but it is not always that simple.This rule deals with the relative nature of an image being level.  Obviously a landscape photo can never be a “little crocked”, like  3 degrees off kilt..

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The above picture is a Big Fail.  It is way off level by a small degree, yet that is enough to negate the image.  This is easy to correct in Photoshop, but way too often one sees this in public posts.

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The 30 degree aspect of this rule relates to photos that intentionally stretch this shift.  The above is a modern art photo by Gunn Photography. Being extremely crocked somehow related to the goal of the artistic expression. It is not a problem here.

The second case that involves the 3° / 30° Rule deals with portraits. There are basically two types of portraits in terms of the photographers perceived relationship to the model. The critical element here is where is the subject looking. Who is the subject responding to?

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In the photo above, the subject is looking right into the eyes of the photographer. The photographer and subject are one.  Each is plying off the other. This pose probably represents  the vast majority of portrait photographs.

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The second type is when to subject is looking off to the side.  This relates to the 30 degrees, and  the pose presents a sense of mystery with the subject. While the photographer is taking the photo, the model is looking off in the distance. This mystery adds to the photo.

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The three degree problem applies to a look that is just off center of the photographer. It appears more strange than mysterious.  It shows that the photographer somehow failed to engage the subject or failed to capture an endearing expression. The angle is so close to insure that the subject must be aware of the photographer, but it is simply unclear what is going on.

The final example of the 3/30 rule usually deals with young children.  It relates to the angle of view from the photographer to the subject. Being at eye level with the subject is critical.  It established equality and the foundation of the photographic relationship.   The key element here is to always hit a knee.

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Never shoot from an angle of  3 degrees down on a child. The perspective jsut does not look natural.

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However, if you are going to shoot down on a child, go the 30 degrees. This makes the “looking up” cute and inquisitive for the child.

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