Poring Over Pisaster Pics With an Eye on Composition and the Rule of Thirds

Picking Pisaster to help me meet this Rule of Thirds challenge was almost instinctive. Starfish exert a powerful pull on people, and I’m no exception, so I possess quite a stash of Pisaster pics. From those, I assembled a small collection of uncropped shots with decent compositions that seem to derive some of their impact from elements of the Rule of Thirds. Since I didn’t consciously frame them up in the wild, I thought pushing myself to explain the compositions, and their adherence to the Rule of Thirds might reveal something about my past behavior on the shore and help me frame better shots in the future. So, here are my selections and brief analyses, courtesy of hindsight.

I love the bright star arching through and around the frame’s upper-left visual sweet spot. Giant green anemones and encrusting colonial tunicates occupy the blurry open space—there is a delicious mystery in the darker distance. The colors work too. This is better, I think, than the black-and-white version I featured in A Starfish, Pisaster, Hanging On.

The rocky intertidal is a teeming, chaotic world—it can wear you out. Back at my desk, I find peace in the simplicity of the shot shown below. The red ribbons draped from the frame’s upper-left focal point are perfect. It works because their size and placement don’t diminish the image’s power, which comes from the starfish’s arms radiating from the frame’s lower-right visual sweet spot. This image previously appeared in Minimalist Scenes from the Rocky Intertidal.

In the pair below, the impact comes, at least in part, from lines rather than points of focus. In the left-hand image, where I cropped just the tiniest bit, horizontal lines of thirds divide the scene. The middle third with the baby Pisaster on clean mussels jumps out between the busy (encrusted), out-of-focus mussels in the upper and lower thirds. A landscape-oriented version in the Pisaster gallery on my Starfishes page that isn’t as compelling. The right-hand image derives much of its punch from its emphasis on the left vertical line of thirds. (And, from powerful leading lines in the ample open space.) It previously appeared in The Crowded Rocky Intertidal Bursting with Life.

Below, the compositions rely less obviously on Rule of Thirds elements. Still, there are ties to it. The left-hand image gains from its emphasis along horizontal and vertical lines of thirds, but I love it for the sun glare emanating from the upper-left corner and for the range of starfish colors. The feeding Pisaster in the right-hand image fills up just the right amount of the middle of the frame, and its focus is notable against the blur of the scene’s generous open space.

Finally, diagonal elements of thirds play an essential role in the image below but don’t ignore the distant star, the one with the strong tug. It lays nicely, just a touch below the frame’s upper-right focal sweet spot. This one previously appeared in Keep Walking, On the Northern Oregon Shore.

Participating in this challenge has been a pleasure, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore the topic. I’ve had more to say about my Pisaster photos and the Rule of Thirds than I imagined. Still, my “just so” assessments are open to alternative interpretations. If you see things differently than I do, please let me know. I’d appreciate the feedback.

The challenge posed two questions I haven’t yet touched on: Were you familiar with the rule? And, do you find it helpful while shooting, in post-processing; neither or both? My answer to the first question is yes, I was familiar with the Rule of Thirds before this challenge. Now, happily, I’m more familiar with it. My answer to the second question is that the Rule of Thirds is frequently helpful while shooting, and I have good intentions, but it’s not too uncommon for me to resign myself to after-the-fact cropping. Then there are those elusive moments when, while shooting, I get so wrapped up in what I’m observing that any photographic intentions escape my conscious awareness. There, the results have been uneven, but those are the best moments.

The Rule of Thirds


  1. You know Steve, I could have written your last paragraph myself (in fact I wish I had!) I feel exactly the same way. Your images this week are truly fabulous. I really envy your colorful creatures. Here they are quite drab from the color perspective and much smaller. but then again we see dolphins frolicking in the waves here all the time and have amazing birds, so perhaps it’s a fair trade 😊

    1. I’m not suprised at all, Tina. Makes perfect sense. Thanks for the compliment on my starfish pics—there are a couple in there I like. And the tradeoffs on our shores is really fun to think about. For example, I don’t think I’ve seen a dolphin or porpoise from the outer, exposed shore. I have seen gray whales and orcas from a distance, and harbor seals come by in the surf and to see if I’m fishing. And right, your birds!

    1. It was a fun challenge. I should have mentioned that to Tina. Anyway, I enjoyed putting the pics together and thinking about them. I confess, I spent a fair amount of time on the narrative, so thank you for mentioning it. I appreciate it, Anne.

    1. Hey there, John! Thanks for mentioning my selections. It wasn’t easy to decide wich to pick. And it’s so true, those intertidal creatures are so alien. I still feel that way even after spending quite a bit of time among them.

  2. You’re amazingly fortunate to live near sea creatures that are happy out of the sea some of the time, and therefore snappable without a snorkel. A very special place, it seems, from your photos.

    1. I am grateful for the access I have. There is a limit to it, though. In between areas with access, there are stretches with mountains and cliffs, and no access. Those areas have seascape beauty, so its a tradeoff.

  3. Another great post Steve, I love seeing your diverse pictures of starfish and enjoyed reading your narrative on each one! Such beautiful colors and so much interesting life all around.

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