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The term, rule of thirds, is like fingernails on a blackboard to me. It is very unfortunate that John Smith coined this phase in 1797. I can't tell you how many times I have heard some smug comment about just be yourself and break the rules. The "rule" would be better off called a prinicple or guideline. The rule of thirds is just one aspect of the field of composition and there are many, many other aspects. I find the study of composition to be extremely valuable and it gives the photographer a toolbox to create compelling images. Or as stated above it helps the photographer to tell a story.
I don't think we can post links to other internet sites, but just google photography composition articles. You will find a very interesting collection on a single web page. Some of the articles are overly simplistic, but I have found some other them to be very good. I would recommend the article by Johannes Vloothuis as a starting point.
+1 @ rules = tools
Starting on page 9 (link above) and running for about three pages you'll see a dialogue among FM'ers (self included) regarding "rule of thirds" and "rules" in general. As you read, you'll notice it is pretty well divided into two camps of useful vs. useless ... but that's the thing about a tool ... it is up to the craftsman to determine which tool he wants to use. Personally, I can't draw a stick man without a ruler, while others would never consider using a straight-edge as something a "true artist" would use.
That being said ... if it works for you to use a rule (I find them useful more for conceptual comprehension than exacting application) .... use it. If it guides, directs or liberates you, those are usually good things. If you find rules hindering or restricting you, maybe not so good.
One thing about composition with regard to say ROT (rule of thirds) is that it isn't a stand alone element. The ROT is largely relative to "placement" within the scene, but the other elements of tonal value, color, scale, perspective, leading lines, etc. are factors to effective composition and the "placement" (ROT) is but one piece of the puzzle.
That being said, people will often times OVEREMPHASIZE rule of thirds, etc. ... to the detriment of the other aspects of the composition. In this regard FORCING a tool can be a hazard, not unlike trying to use a screwdriver to do the job of a chisel. You can have a scene with great leading lines to a central subject ... and if you moved it to fit the ROT, you could ruin your leading lines (particularly implied ones). Personally, I find leading lines more powerful & dynamic than ROT placement. ROT becomes most useful (imo) in the absence of strong symmetry, scale, perspective, leading lines etc.
To me, ROT is a bit like "divebomb charlie" (answer "C" on multiple choice when you don't know the answer) in that when you don't have an otherwise clear direction on where/how to take your compositional placement. It can be a "safe place" to go, that is often one of the first things learned @ how to "decentralize" a subject. But as you learn more about the other elements of composition and how people "see" and how to "draw the eye" in your imagery ... you'll find ROT less important to you (still a valuable tool) as you have filled your toolbox with additional tools of your choosing.
Second to ROT (imo) is selective focus. These are probably the first two powerful tools that people learn to use (good stuff). Other tools are much more subtle and cohesively refined in their usage, so it can take a while before people are willing to relinquish their powerful friends of ROT, selective focus, etc. We all have our favorite tools, and when we pick up a new one it becomes our favorite to use until we get decent control of it ... then on to find a new one to add to the arsenal of tools in our toolbox as well build a collection of them to have at our disposal. ROT is but one ... and it is a classic one that will always have value ... but it is far from the only one.
There are a variety of ways you can go with any image, depending upon your goals for the image. One isn't necessarily "better" than another although some might better achieve a desired goal.
As always S&P to taste.
WELCOME TO FM !!!
FM ROCKS !!!