Using the rule of thirds can help you to take, or in the case of this image crop, a better photo. Original Photo by Brandon Stanton.

“Two is company and three is a crowd,” is true in nothing except for when pursuing a traditional, romantic relationship. In everything else, three is the perfect number to make your life more beautiful, more interesting and more fun.

I’ve begun to approach my life as one big, long performance piece so I’ve been trying to apply the rule of thirds to pretty much everything I make and the rule of threes to everything I do from cooking meals to planning dates with my husband. It’s fine to go out to dinner and a movie but when you go out to dinner, a movie and a piano bar for a nightcap; that’s a memorable date.

Up until I started creating art projects for my Doodle Art & Design program, I had no idea that three was such an important number in so many aspects of life. I almost stopped at three kids but I thought everyone in my family should have someone, which harks back to the relationship exception.

I discovered this pretty magnificent concept while I was cooking. Like most people, I try to serve three foods at each meal: a vegetable, a protein and a starch. That in itself is not remarkable but I realized that if each of those three components had three ingredients, the meal would be exponentially better. For example, if I sauté the spinach with a little olive oil, onion and balsamic vinegar, baste a little butter, salt and pepper on the roast chicken, and add sour cream, cheese and chives into the baked potatoes, the meal becomes a little fancy. I was so excited by my discovery that I told my kids who were hanging out in the kitchen.

“Mom, that’s called the rule of three. We use it in literature and comedy.”

I felt so dumb. While I knew about the rule of thirds in photography and I had been organically using it in my writing, I didn’t realize that it was a rule! You can apply it to anything such as coffee table decor (plant, book, small sculpture), making hot chocolate (vanilla, marshmallows and cinnamon), or to the number of products you put in your hair for a great look (gel, pomade and hairspray).

Wikipedia says the rule of three or power of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, and more effective than other numbers of things. Apparently, when you are giving information to a group, stick to three points and they are more likely to remember the information. How many of you remember the phrases, Stop, Look and Listen or Stop, Drop and Roll? I realized that I rarely make a statement in my writing without backing it up with three examples. Two things can be a fluke but three makes whatever you’re claiming, so.

In comedy, the rule of three can be made up of this pattern: same, same, different; ordinary, ordinary, ridiculous or expected, expected, unexpected, etc. Look at this one-liner by my son Peter when he was performing his stand-up routine during a Second City Class:

“I used to date an equestrian, which I’ll never do again. Like her horse, she wanted her man to be strong, graceful and locked up at night.”

The rule of thirds in making pictures is a guide that applies to the process of composing photographs, paintings and filmmaking, pretty much anything visual. The rule of thirds dictates that an image should be visualized as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines, like a tic-tac-toe board. All of the important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.If you use this technique you will create more tension, energy and interest in your picture than just plopping your subject, be it a person, pet or object in the center of the frame. Your photos change from being just a snapshot to telling a story.

I’ve used the rule of three to assemble outfits, make cocktails, and prepare presentations. Two things are fine when putting together an outfit; you’ve got your shirt and pants. You pour a glass of champagne and throw in a little orange juice and you have a tasty Mimosa. You’re preparing a presentation: you put together a nice slide show with a handout, not bad. But when you add a third component, it gives it a little pop: a nice scarf with that outfit; a splash of Grand Marnier in that Mimosa; some music with that presentation.

During this revelation, I realized that I was unconsciously using this rule when preparing art projects for my classes. I always design a project that has three components made up of stuff that you might not think goes together. Wood, wire and sticky foam make a great Designing Chairs project. Canvas, clay and Wikki Stix make for a fun Body Mask project. Fake plants, a wooden plaque, and some brick scrap booking paper and you’ve got a Mini Vertical Garden.

Since we are now living in the age of photo documentation of our lives via Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, to name three, I thought my students and I should look at the Rule of Thirds. If the world is going to be flooded with photos, they may as well be good!

So we looked at bad photos, which they loved and good photos, which they loved more. They weren’t sure why. They commented on the color, the funniness and how cute the subject was but I realized that they didn’t understand composition, consciously, anyway. So we set out with our tic-tac-toe-gridded paper, magazine images and glue and began to experiment with the rule of thirds. Hopefully, their winter break photos will be filled with interesting stories. If you want to see images of the rule of thirds check out Doodle Art & Design’s Rule of Thirds Pinterest page.

Kathleen Thometz is an artist, freelance writer and founder of Doodle Art & Design, a mobile art program. She has one husband, four children and three doodle dogs, Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. She blogs at, has contributed to the mid and Chicago Parent.

Kathleen Thometz

I am an artist, writer, and art instructor with four children, one husband, and two doodle-dogs. I have contributed articles to the and Chicago Parent Magazine and wrote the Artist's Eye column...