Pedro Oliveira Explains Composition and How the Rule of Thirds Works

Exposure, shutter speed, ISO, and aperture are the most crucial factors in photography. But apart from the technical aspects influencing an image, the composition is another factor that you should pay equal attention to. For Pedro Oliveira, a photo’s composition tells the story of the object and the subject.

Pedro is a world-known travel and advertising photographer, based in Portland-Oregon, and Los Angeles, California. His photo essays like Careful: Soul Inside and Beyond the 60th Sense have been published in outlets such as Vanity Fair, Der Spiegel, and National Geographic. Unlike many photographers who explain composition as a complicated set of rules, Pedro’s definition is simple and easy to understand.

What is composition?

According to Pedro, composition is the combination of various elements in your photo that delivers a message that your audience can relate to. This has nothing to do with ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Instead, it’s the thought behind the photo that matters. If you are taking the photo of a bride, it’s that spark in her eyes and the faint smile that speaks volumes about the image.

Does that mean composition and rule of thirds don’t interfere with each other? Of course, they do. The way you hold the camera and adjust the settings to enhance your composition coincides frequently. But when it comes to putting thought behind the photo, that’s where composition becomes crucial. The composition of a photo also depends on various factors, such as:

  • Perspective
  • Presence or absence of various objects
  • Leading lines that guide your eye in the image
  • Depth of field
  • Contrasting colors

Contrasting colors, depth of field, and leading lines directly point to the rule of thirds, and that’s why you can’t separate it from the composition.

Understanding the rule of thirds

You will notice that Pedro’s photos follow a linear style. This is because he always follows the rule of thirds. But what exactly is this rule? Well, there’s no rule per se. You should consider it as a guiding principle that helps in taking beautiful shots every time. Following these guidelines help in overcoming the initial steps of photography. Excellent photographers may not follow these rules at all. But if you do, that path to taking more professional looking photos will be easier.

Pedro believes that the rule of thirds gives you time to think about what your frame composition should be. What are the objects you want to keep in your photo? Once you figure that out, you can adjust your camera’s position accordingly. The best way to follow this framing rule is by imagining the lens as a tic-tac-toe board. There will be two horizontal and two vertical lines. You should keep essential elements in your photo within these lines.

If you follow Pedro’s perspective, you should try to place your camera in such a way so that the horizontal elements follow the imaginary horizontal line on your lens. Similarly, the vertical objects should follow the vertical line. This helps in achieving the perfect rule of thirds. Once you start following this rule in every image you take, you will get a better idea of how to compose your photos. You will automatically know which elements to keep and which ones to avoid.