Marine Aquarium Aquascaping: The Rule of Thirds

Using the Rule of Thirds to aquascape your reef can result in a more visually appealing appearanceAficionados of freshwater planted aquariums have long understood that observing certain rules of composition when aquascaping with plants, rocks, driftwood, and other features can have a tremendous impact on an aquarium’s overall aesthetic impression. While we reefkeepers haven’t traditionally placed much emphasis on composition in our aquascaping approach—at least not in a formal sense—we can certainly enhance our enjoyment of the hobby by implementing some of these same rules. Among these is the “Rule of Thirds.” To apply the Rule of Thirds, imagine that a grid pattern consisting of two equidistant vertical lines and two equidistant horizontal lines is superimposed over the front of your tank. This grid creates nine equal-sized, rectangular sections and visually divides the image in front of you into thirds both vertically and horizontally. Picture that famous image at the beginning of The Brady Bunch TV series (sans the Bradys and Alice, of course), and you’ll have the general idea.Place aquascaping elements and sessile inverts along the grid lines with strong focal points positioned where lines intersect Great, so you’ve got a mental grid floating in front of your tank and the theme to The Brady Bunch running in a constant loop through your head. Now what? Well, according to the Rule of Thirds, compositional elements—for our purposes, aquascaping elements and sessile invertebrates—should be placed along the grid lines and strong focal points should be positioned at points where the lines intersect. For our purposes, a strong focal point could be a particularly impressive coral specimen, a prominent rock projection, etc.

The Use of Negative Space in the Reef Aquarium Aquascape

Marine aquarium aquascapes are evolving to favor more open, irregular aestheticsOne of the more interesting developments in the reefkeeping hobby, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the latest, greatest gadget or advance in water-quality-management methodology. Rather, it’s an evolving aesthetic in aquascaping. Bored with the traditional monolithic stack of rocks propped up against the back pane and consuming much of the tank’s volume, modern reef hobbyists are starting to appreciate and experiment with the use of negative space—the open areas around the rockwork—when planning their aquascapes.The towering, uniform “wall of rock” has given way to lower-profile aquascaping with irregular, broken topography, allowing open channels and swim-throughs, caves and overhangs, islands, etc. And this trend makes perfect sense. Artists have long known the value of striking the right balance between positive and negative space in their compositions. With our reef systems essentially being living works of art, it stands to reason that the aesthetic principles guiding the works of painters and sculptors can only make our aquascapes all the more visually appealing. This aquascape features a broken topography and plenty of open sand What’s different about exploiting negative space in reefkeeping versus artwork is that it has both practical and aesthetic value