The ‘rule of thirds’ is a crucial principle used, at least to some degree, in almost every aesthetically-pleasing aqua-scape. The ‘rule of thirds’ allows the aquarist to design an aquarium with both depth and perspective, while maintaining a sense of scale.
The ‘rule of thirds’ is especially important when choosing elements to use in your hardscape. Hardscaping forms the ‘bones’ of almost every successful aqua-scape and sets the mood and structure upon which the aquarist can create beautiful, nature-mimicking habitats for their fish. Getting the hardscape right allows the rest of the scape to fall into place easily and effectively.
Rule of Thirds
The ‘rule of thirds’ is a design technique which provides the guidelines on how to place elements in a design as a way to control where the viewers eye will travel and how they will perceive the aqua—scape. The rule states that; a design should be imagined as being divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or at their intersections. (See below).
Upon planning an aqua-scape, one of the most important factors to consider is, how and where the viewers gaze will be drawn across the aqua-scape. The first step to take in determining this is to find a focal point for your design. This should be the point that draws the gaze of the viewer first, and from where they can then visually explore the rest of the aqua-scape. The rule of thirds allows us to place the focal point in the most effective and visually appealing place in order to create a beautiful aqua-scape.
Placement of Focal Points
Imagine a grid as shown below:
The main focal point should be placed two thirds from the bottom of the aquarium and one third from the right side of the aquarium. A second focal point can then be used. This should be placed, two thirds to the right of the aquarium and one third up. However, whilst it may be advisable for beginners to stick more stoically to the rules of composition, these rules can be broken and an effective aqua-scape still created.
Creating Perspective and Depth:
Creating perspective or an illusion of depth, can be one of the greatest challenges in an aquarium, as most aquariums do not have enough depth from front to back to give a true sense of perspective. However, we can achieve the illusion of depth, or perspective by how we position the elements of our hardscape. The most common mistake aquarists make when positioning hardscape elements, is to place them in a very unnatural, straight line from left to right. This results in a flat, two-dimensional image.
Image that the same horizontal and vertical lines are laid over the top of your aquarium, creating the same nine squares. The focal points should be placed at the same intersections. That is, two thirds up and one third right, and two thirds right and one third up. The key is to image the aqua-scape from multiple dimensions. The focal points should be placed in such a way as to fulfil both the above rules.
Keeping the foreground shallow also allows you to create a more effective aqua-scape. Having a huge foreground compresses the mid-ground and background, and takes away space from between the hardscape elements. Finally, when you position your hardscape make sure that there are clear lines for the eye to follow from front to back, paying attention to ensuring that the foreground naturally transitions to the mid-ground, and then from there to the background.
The function of the focal point is to draw attention, therefore, it should stand out from the rest of the aqua-scape. There should always be some sort of focal point in every aqua-scape. Not having a focal point does the same thing as having too many focal points; the viewer’s eyes are left wandering back and forth, stressed and uncomfortable.
There should only be one main focal point. Having more than one equally sized focal point ruins the aesthetically pleasing nature of an aqua-scape. However, if you do decide to create more than one focal point, make sure that one of them is taller and serves as the main focal point, leaving the others be subordinate to it.
Focal points can be either hardscape elements, such as wood and rocks, or plants (usually red in colouration) that stand out from the rest of the aqua-scape.
Tape string on your tank to mimic the lines of the rule of thirds grid! A little piece of masking tape over either end of the string helps you do the job in no time at all. This will help you visualise the scape better!