Creating a good image doesn't have to be blind luck or mystical talent. Just as there are rules in science to explain solar system, such as gravity. there are rules to art that assist our visual universe. But before we get to the rules, let's talk about visual storytelling. Write what you think is happening in the picture below.
The story above could be scary, but it could also be hopeful. Someone could be trying to survive a flood, or they could be in the process of being rescued by a lifeguard. This is a matter of perspective. What is missing is context. How discover the context is by asking the journalistic questions...
Almost every news story answers these questions before going into detail so that the audience will have a clue of what is going on and why they should care. As an artist if you don't know the answers to these questions, then why would your audience care about your work?
Below is a picture by the illustrator Howard Pyle. Pirates never really had to walk the plank, but the were marooned, which is the title of this piece. What I would ask the viewer is how did Pyle use his placement of the Pirate to convey the feeling of forever alone?
When beginning your image you should ask these questions to help answer the journalistic questions for your image. These questions will help you think about what elements should even be in your picture.
OK...now time for the RULE OF THIRDS!!!
Rule of thirds: Note how the horizon falls close to the bottom grid line,
and how the dark areas are in the left third, the overexposed in the right third
Also, the rule of thirds helps us not put the horizon line dead center. A horizon line dead center will be boring and make your audience try to decide what is more important the sky or the city. No one really wants to do that so they just won't appreciate your image as much as they could.
Great, I get the RULE OF THIRDS helps, but how does it work?
What if I don't use it? Then the picture belows happen. It is static, and used it's spacing poorly. The composition is bad because the focus is dead center so all the space around the seagull is unnecessary.
However, there is hope! The rule of thirds can help you solve your problem. Use the grid to your advantage to place your seagull, and your image will come to life.
But what about the 3 bears? Well first we need to talk about hierarchies and focus. Hierarchies are what elements you decide are important for your viewers or audience to focus on.
Chances are your story has more than one element. So we need to prioritize what is important. This will help you decide what to make the largest element in your picture and how to place it. So we call the different sized elements the 3 bears to easily remember that size can emphasize order of importance.
There is a trick to figuring out how to decide what is the Papa, Mama, and baby bears. Simply write a sentence. The first thing you write is usually the Papa bear and so on. Why we do this is that it puts the burden of problem solving on your subconscious versus sitting for hours trying to figure out placement. If the image isn't working simply rewrite the sentence.
Can we see the the Rule of Thirds in action? I thought you would never ask. Here is an image by legendary illustrator John Howe.
This is "Howe" he is using the Rule of Thirds and the Three Bears,