The Rule of Tenths in Photography

Chances are greater than not that you’ve heard about the rule of thirds at some point. After all, it’s one of the first things most photographers are taught about composition. But have you ever heard of the rule of tenths?

There’s really not all that much to the rule of tenths. If you understand the rule of thirds, you’re already most of the way there.

emphasize subject in bottom tenth of frame

Rule of Tenths

Just as the name suggests, it involves splitting your image into tenths horizontally and vertically.

scale in photography


According to the rule, placing objects or horizons in the bottom, top, leftmost, or rightmost tenth of the image can serve to emphasize size or scale for a dramatic effect.

rule of tenths example

Exaggerated Perspective

The image pictured above demonstrates just how this trick functions. As this grid illustrates, the jeeps in this shot are confined to, roughly, the upper tenth of the composition. Everything below is dedicated to the exaggerated length of road.

The rule of tenths should be used sparingly; it simply doesn’t work in every situation. However, the technique challenges photographers to think about composing their images in a way that breaks the standard mold. The next time you want to make an image that really captures a viewer’s attention, give this trick a try. If executed correctly, it can produce a powerful end product.

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4 responses to “The Rule of Tenths in Photography”

  1. Walt Polley says:

    Let’s see – basic math – 10 divided by 3 is about 3. Looks like most of your examples have subject in the top, bottom or side third. Must be rule of thirds, but suffering from inflation – 1/3 is about 3/10. Not impressed by this “rule” at all.

  2. Tim says:

    Help me out with the math here. Looking at the last image, it seems pretty clear that the vehicles are included in the top 3 rows of the grid/ 3/10 = .30, which seems much closer to 1/3 = .33 than it does 1/10 = .10.

  3. amruta says:

    Thanks for sharing great article, also learn a lot from these tips. it really informative and helpful.

  4. Roz de-Layen Vian says:

    This is similar to the 20/80 or 80/20 rule, where you place your subject within the upper 20% or lower 20% of a picture, to gain the same dramatic effect.
    It works, especially with subjects such as hot air balloons in the upper 20% to give ‘height’ to the subject.
    A swan in the lower 20% on a river gives depth in the same way.

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