humor, language, photography

Waldo Lemonsucker & Rule of Thirds — Part 2 of 2

Where there are rules, there are people like Waldo, more intent on abiding by the rules than accomplishing the mission, even when the rules are oversimplified guidelines w/o the force of law.  It’s hard to formulate a rule of thumb in a way that is simple to learn and remember but adequate for the real world.  One example is the Rule of Thirds in photography.  Let’s try for a less exception-riddled formulation.

Part 2 of 2: Stories & Contexts

Photos tell stories, sometimes by themselves and sometimes in concert with other photos, poetry, or prose.  The kind of story that a photo tells is a clue about whether to apply or ignore the Rule of Thirds.

For the examples considered here, it is OK to speak of “the” subject as some unique part of the image that is more important than anything else.  It is also OK to assume that the subject is roughly the same size in all directions, so it could be placed near a sweet spot and leave room all around for lots of other stuff.  Waldo just assumes the other stuff should be kept, not cropped out.  Why keep it?


I’m not the first to fill a frame with a big showy flower, and I won’t be the last.  Thanks to tight cropping and a mild vignette, the remaining background green brings out the daylily’s colors w/o fighting with them.  The image tells a simple story of red and yellow.  With looser cropping and no vignette, the image in Part 1 tells a story of nubbly magenta, striped blue, and glowing white.  Waldo is way off for these stories.

Sometimes the background in an image provides necessary context for a story about the subject.  In a typical example of the Rule of Thirds, a bare tree stands in a harsh, sparsely vegetated landscape.  Lonely, vulnerable, tenacious.  Nothing but the tree in the landscape merits a second glance, but the story needs to give the landscape most of the frame.  Waldo is right on for this story.

There are other tales to tell. Maybe yours is like the daylily story, in that the subject’s only pertinent interaction with the wider world is what it does with photons from the nearest star.  If so, ignore Waldo.  Maybe yours is like the bare tree story, in that it is about the subject interacting with the wider world.  If so, heed Waldo but don’t fret too much about how near to a sweet spot is near enough.  Fret more about getting a good context to fill most of the frame.

To see an elegant solution to a difficult frame-filling problem, visit Decline of an Ancient Mariner in the Winter 2023 issue of National Wildlife.  I subscribe to the print edition but was not asked to provide any credentials, so U may be able to visit the link w/o encountering a paywall.

The article deals with the roles of horseshoe crabs in the ecology and economics of Delaware Bay, the perils they face, and efforts to conserve them.  Its last photo is memorable despite sharing this issue of the magazine with some astonishing winners of the latest NWF Photo Contest.

Ariane Müller is a professional nature photographer, and prints of her excellent photos of horseshoe crabs can be bought.  Her subject here (a horseshoe crab trudging back to the bay after spawning on the beach) is not photogenic by itself, but her photo shows the crab in a context that lets it convey all the mixed emotions the article evokes: sadness about what has already been lost, grim foreboding of total collapse, and a glimmer of hope.  There are still some crabs out there, and nature is resilient if given half a chance.  Maybe we will clean up our act in time to save the crabs, along with the critters and human livelihoods that rely on them.


© Ariane Müller | National Wildlife

– Gray button (upper left corner) reveals widgets, –
– above post (on phone) or beside it (on desktop). –

7 thoughts on “Waldo Lemonsucker & Rule of Thirds — Part 2 of 2

  1. Both parts of your examination of the Rule of Thirds were informative and nicely illustrated. The article on horseshoe crabs was alarming as it compared their historical and current numbers, and eyeopening as it considered their eggs more as a food source than as perpetuation of the horseshoe crab population. Thanks for sharing all of that, Mel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks.  Glad U checked out the magazine article too.  While NW is always a good read, this issue’s combination of photo contest winners and the multifaceted look at horseshoe crabs is extraordinary.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When a photo ‘pops’ as you have made it in the above photo ~ it will capture the attention even more by breaking the rules. Also, appreciate the work with the horseshoe crabs – those are some amazing photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks.  I took and cropped the photo long ago, then set it aside.  Came back to it, noticed how intrusive the background was, belatedly realized it needed a vignette, and was happy to see how the subject popped out.  Glad U liked it too.


    1. While I’d put a realistic statement of the R of T in any top ten list for photography (and seriously consider it for any top five list), I’d balk at ranking the R of T above something like
               Avoid flash if U can; bounce it if U can’t.
      that is much more widely applicable.

      Don’t get me started on advice outside photography. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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