Does the Rule of Thirds limit how creative I can be as a packshot photographer?

For anyone getting into product photography, the “Rule of Thirds” will be one of the main methods you learn for understanding how to compose an image. It is quite possibly the most common theory within photography and as a packshot photographer, you will certainly find it useful.

To summarise the rule – if you divide a screen into thirds (both vertically and horizontally), you should then place any subject or point of interest where the horizontal and vertical lines cross. There are countless articles out there if you want to research this in more depth.

What many in the photography world don’t realise, is that this “Rule of Thirds” can actually limit creativity and slow the evolution of your photography. The aim of this article is to highlight this concern and explore ideas on how you can not only use this rule but also try other options to help learn composition.

You need to have control

One of the fundamental requirements of the “Rule of Thirds” is that all of the elements should fit into the cross-sections of the image. This means you have to rely on a mixture of manually moving the subject, models and props around or moving the camera so that the angle delivers the result you need.

The reality is quite different to this ideal scenario. In product photography, a packshot photographer will often have to deal with a range of issues like working outdoors or capturing natural backgrounds and you won’t have the control you need.

It limits the ability to learn composition

Working in the world of product photography means always learning, whether a novice or an experienced photographer. There is an argument that this rule helps people to avoid poor composition or suffering from using the wrong settings on their cameras.

However, the counterargument is that it can make it difficult to manage different types of composition. Finding that harmony between a collection of props, natural features and the subject is difficult at the best of times but if you’re used to simply relying on this rule then you won’t learn the tricks needed to deliver the very best results as a packshot photographer.

So what can you do differently?

The challenge we face is how and when to use the “Rule of Thirds” as part of teaching product photography and when to focus on the fundamental techniques of composition.

Certainly, it is useful to stop people simply pointing the camera and putting the subject in the centre of the frame, but anyone working in product photography should very quickly realise there is far more to the job than this.

This is where a more flexible, creative approach to practice and development wins the day. Taking the time to explore different settings, products and themes will require a photographer to think carefully about where to put each prop and how it differs depending on the overall composition goal.

Summary

This rule is a fantastic tool to help those new to the world of product photography but the important point to remember is that it shouldn’t limit learning and limit creativity. When it moves from a supporting tool to a restraint then it is no longer serving a purpose.