The Rule of Odds


In the world of photography, there are many different techniques and systems meant to aid the photographer in capturing effective imagery. Depending on your photographic experience you may have heard of the Rule of Thirds, or the Golden Mean, which are both intended to assist the photographer in creating dynamic imagery through composition. A lesser known technique that can be an equally as useful consideration is the Rule of Odds. In brief, this short article will discuss the Rule of Odds in composition and how you can leverage it in your own photography to create compelling images.

While composition techniques like the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Mean developed to aid composition by the placement of objects in the frame, the Rule of Odds focuses more on the number of subjects the photographer includes in a photograph. At its most basic the Rule of Odds states that odd numbers of subjects are more appealing to the viewer, and create more dynamic images, than even numbered subjects. Though referred to as the Rule of Odds the grouping most often referred to in the Rule of Odds is three. It would cause confusion with the Rule of Thirds to refer to it as the Rule of Three.

For smaller subjects like still life, flower, or macro photography grouping the subject into three, with the focus on the foreground or middle subject is a good use of the Rule of Odds. When photographing large groups of subjects a photographer should consider breaking the group up into smaller, odd numbered groups if possible. This requires a change of vantage or focal length and thinking critically to make the composition. Let’s consider some real-world examples.

Wildlife Photography – Picture a group of herons. There are many, far more than three, but they are in many different groups. You would isolate a groups of herons; say one group of three, a group of six, and a group of five. In your composition, each of those groups of birds would be one subject. The arrangement of the three groups of multiple birds is a stronger composition than a jumble of all the birds that might be present.

Street/Urban photography – Picture a street in a major city lined with street lamps. They stretch down the street but one you notice is broken. Using the rule of thirds a photographer would compose the scene so that the broken street light is focused on with an unbroken streetlight in the foreground, and an unbroken streetlight in the background. Placing the broken streetlight in a group of three with the two unbroken lights provides context and provides a more pleasing composition for the viewer.

Still life – Fruit or vegetable photographed in a still life composition. Photographed in a pair the composition seems dull and static. But once the photographer positions a third item, slightly off-balanced to the other two, a new dynamic composition is achieved.

The Rule of Odds is seen in many places we don’t even realize. It is important to remember that though it is called a rule, many of the techniques developed in photography are really just guidelines. Composition techniques are there to provide a starting point for your photography. Once you have explored the principles, found how they can be used for your photography, then you can consider going beyond them. The Rule of Odds is not a constraint or restriction, but a new way to see that will make you a stronger and more varied photographer.

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