What separates a gorgeous, well-designed rockscape from the rest? Depth, perspective, and scale.

When you look at a well-planned aquarium, its underwater design isn’t erratic or random. Rather, it centers on expertly placed rocks and accessories that create an eye-pleasing balance.

Especially if you’re new to this realm, it can be tricky to get this look right. One easy way to nail it? Learn the rule of 3s!

Today, we’re sharing what this rule includes and how you can put it into practice in your own aquascape.

Ready to learn more? Let’s go!

What Is the Rule of Thirds?

In short, the rule of thirds is a design strategy that helps you place elements in a way that controls where the viewer’s eye will travel. While it’s a common practice in the rockscape niche, it’s also a common technique in landscaping, graphic design, and even photography!

Think of the opening credits of the Brady Bunch. You know the split-screen that’s divided into nine equal parts? That’s where you’ll begin.

Two evenly-spaced horizontal lines and two evenly-spaced vertical lines anchor this shape. When designing your aquarium, you’ll strive to place the most important compositional elements along the lines themselves, or at their intersections.

When you’re planning the perfect rockscape, begin by determining how you want the viewer’s gaze to move across the scene. In most cases, you’ll want them to notice your largest and highest formation first, as this is the focal point of your design.

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Once their eyes land there, they’re free to explore the rest of the layout. Let’s review how to place your focal points to achieve the visually-appealing and balanced look.

Placing Your Focal Points

Your focal points are places where your viewer’s eyes will rest as they explore the scene you’ve put together. Here are the two main ones to consider.

The Main Focal Point

Place the most dramatic and eye-catching part of your aquatic design two-thirds from the bottom of the aquarium, and one-third from its right side.

This is the critical part of your design, and you should have only one. Without it, your viewer’s eyes are left wandering around without any real place to focus. If you have more than one, however, the two compete against each other and disrupt the balance you’re seeking to create.

Secondary Focal Point

With your main focal point set, you can place your secondary one. As implied, this is the second tallest feature of your design. It should complement and not be in direct contrast to your main focal point.

Place it two-thirds to the right of the aquarium and one-third up.

Creating Depth and Perspective

Even some of the biggest aquariums don’t have enough front-to-back depth to give an accurate sense of perspective. This is where you can get a little creative!

Resist the urge to place the remainder of your rockscape pieces from left to right. This creates a flat, unnatural line that lacks dimension and interest.

Rather, place these smaller items anywhere along those two horizontal or two vertical lines, spacing them out to create a 3D image. Focus on a design that flows naturally from the front to the back, giving viewers plenty of places to rest their eyes in the foreground, mid-ground, and background.

What is one of the most effective ways to build depth this way? Don’t put all of your fish tank rocks at the front. A shallow foreground allows the mid-ground and background to shine, whereas a deep one oppresses these sections.

As graphic designers herald the importance of white space, the same rule holds true for your aquarium. Give your hardscape elements room to breathe by not crowding too many close together. You’ll find that the empty areas serve an important purpose, too, as they break up your major elements.

Visualize the Design

It’s one thing to read about the Rule of 3s, but it can be difficult to visualize it when you’re working in your aquarium.

To make the process easier, tape string on the front of your tank that depicts the nine-square grid layout. Hold it in place with masking tape and use it to help guide your design.

Keep in mind that if you follow this rule, your focal points will be in the right place whether you place the grid on the front of the tank or on top of it. Either way, your biggest showcase piece will be toward the back left, while the complementary element will be in the front right.

As you work, aim to keep as close to these standards of composition as possible, but don’t stress over every tiny detail. Even if you break the “rules” a little, you can still create a beautiful aquascape!

Master the Rule of 3s in Your Next Rockscape

You’re interested in the Rule of 3s because you want your rockscape to stand out from the rest. While others might not give a second thought to how their fish tanks look, you know that a thoughtful design is worth the investment.

Keeping this technique in mind, are you ready to transform the look and feel of your aquarium? If so, we’d love to help.

We offer a vast selection of dry rocks designed to make your tank as stunning and special as possible. From ancient reef rock to frag rocks and growout tiles, we’ve got the tools you need to create a one-of-a-kind design.

Contact us today to learn more about our products or start a custom project!