Thursday, January 13, 2011

Photography and Composition

Compositional elements, sometimes used as rules or guidelines to aid with creation and understanding of good photographs, is really more about human life. It is our collective memory about all that we have seen and felt, which conveys to us at an instinctual level, how we will interpret symbols. That can be found within a mass of  different shapes, sizes and colours.

Some symbols are obvious, such as the boat.  But how about directional arrows formed by triangles in the sky or on land and the directional action of waves guiding the eyes - even placement within a grid of thirds.
The boat was originally white but I liked the turquoise as it adds a little more interest, and red would have been too strong for a more tranquil scene. There was no dogging or burning of any areas to enhance triangles. But if needed, I would use these techniques to increase the effectiveness.

Horizontal Line

The most simplistic of all elements is the straight horizontal line.

I am sure that most of us are familiar with looking out over a vast expanse such as prairie fields or the open ocean, and seeing far in the distance, the earth's horizon. The eyes filling evenly above and below. That horizontal thin line seems to balance the forces between the two.
At this distance, any change in nature can take hours to manifest and therefore at normal viewing moments, seems as stable as the rocks of the earth.
Most dynamic things are upright such as animals, trees, buildings, and when at their end of life, they all lay flat on the ground. 

This gives the horizontal line emotional impressions, such as

In this picture, a rule is broken (never having an even split between sky and earth) but here the centre is the focal point and the joining line (horizon) ties all the posts and buoys together. If you look closely you will see birds on almost every post and this is the final focal interest. Works well in large print.

It is rare that any single compositional element will define the entirety of the image but there are some abstracts. More often, they are used as tools to set mood, guide direction and fix attention.  Many elements may work in harmony to create a pastoral scene or in conflict to help focus the viewers thought on differences.
In the above image the very obvious horizontal line created by the white-stone brick work, anchored by the window and sign, sets up a contest for attention with the shadows of the tree which delays  easy recognition and thereby longer gaze at photo.  Next the '59' number, which are strong attention symbols, takes us to the corner of the image but our interest is drawn back inwards along the tree branch shadows then to the window, a focal point. Here we stop to look inside as human nature dictates.

These are all compositional design pieces that hopefully help to keep viewers attention on photograph.

While there are core principles for each element, I also think that these can be influenced by our lifestyles and where we live.

I would love to hear your perceptions on how you see its effects.

Niels Henriksen


Anita Jesse said...

An outstanding post. You succeed in articulating these principles in an accessible manner that sticks in the mind. Furthermore, both photos effectivly illustrate your points. Excellent work. Bravo!

nielsp said...

Thanks Anita:

I am not always sure my style or interests are the same as others.

But I will work, whether in-camera or post production so all the pieces come together and leave it to the viewer to enjoy the image or not.


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