Monday, January 4, 2010

composition...grab from nikonian academy forum--credit to izzalee

Composition and Balance
Composition and the achievement of Balance

Much has been written about the 'rules' of composition in photography, some people use them merely as guidelines, others learn the rules so they have them to hand, and then rely on experience and intuition to achieve their desired result, some even focus on breaking them to achieve original results. However, for some, composition rules are the crux of their thinking when approaching a photo, and incorporate them into every aspect of their photographs. Here is a brief tutorial on the application of incorporating some composition methodology into your photographs.

A few basic definitions to help understanding this tutorial:

Composition: The art of arranging your subject/s in the frame.
Positive Space: The space occupied by your subject/s.
Negative Space: The area from the edges of the positive space to the frame or border.
Frame: The edge of the picture.
Balance: The use of a combination of colours, shapes, lines, edges and areas of light and dark that aesthetically complement one another to achieve a 'harmony' between frame, negative and positive space.
Framing: Using elements occurring in the picture (rather than the frame of the picture) to frame the main subject.
Perspective: The position chosen from which to view the subject (up, down, near, far, etc).
Depth: The choice of including only two or adding three dimensional aspects to your picture.

So lets start with a practical example for the first 3 definitions.


Composition is the art of arranging your subject/s in the frame. You as a photographer have unlimited choices as to where to place your subject in the picture frame, however, the study of photography has shown that, strangely enough, when viewing images that people's eyes don't necessarily react best to the subject being center weighted - in fact, when viewing, a subject appearing along the intersection of 'the thirds', feels for the viewer a more natural way of viewing an image rather than working against it. Now why is that? Well it is due to the fact that the viewer is naturally tuned to experience both positive and negative space. Where a picture is centred, more often than not the Positive Space, the subject, overwhelms the Negative Space, and as such the image feels 'unbalanced' to the viewer, it lacks that aesthetic harmony. As a result, reacting to this phenomena, the Rule of Thirds was developed. Take a look at this picture:

The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have nine parts, as I have done with the blue lines on this image. As you can see, the subject has been composed such that the key focal point of the subject, the birds eye, is positioned on one of the intersections, thus applying the rule. The composition of this image also helps illustrate the theory of balance between positive and negative space discussed above, at work. In this case, the Positive Space (the bird) occupies almost exactly 4 1/2 of the 9 parts, the Negative Space (the green background) the same, the resulting composition achieving a symmetrical balance between positive and negative space, and an aesthetically pleasing result for the viewer as a result. The Rule of Thirds is a great starting place for photographers looking to apply composition theory in the attempt to improve the look of their images.


The next important area to consider is the frame of your picture, and how it interacts with the subject, negative space and lines within the image. Lets take an extreme example when we look at Image 2:

This image interacts with the edge of the frame in numerous places, and it is the photographers choice on what will work best, again the choices are limitless, but the composition choice is very important to the resulting image. This is especially true in this case, as the numerous lines create different shapes at different places depending on where they meet hence the intersections have been carefully chosen in the composition of this image. The arrows point out where the choice of composition has key lines cross the frame at geometrically significant places:

a) cable lines meeting exactly in the corner creating two precise isosceles triangles on the right third of the image, triangles that have been created by the intersection of edge and subject, because they don't really exist if you were not looking at this scene through the eyes of a camera lens.
b) the edge of the Ferris wheel supports touching exactly on the right third dividing the picture into aesthetically pleasing thirds,
c) the wheel of the Ferris meeting the edge precisely at the middle (at the top and bottom of the picture)) creating horizontal symmetry,
d) the spine of the Ferris axis meeting the edge precisely at the middle (at the right centre of the picture) creating vertical symmetry,
e) the left third in which the spokes create a 'negative space', many tiny lines meet the frame, but no strong lines, balancing the positive space in the centre of the image.

The result, an interaction of lines, shapes and positive and negative spaces, specifically composed not only paying attention to the subject and the space, but specifically to the interaction of the elements in the picture and the edge, creating additional shapes and balance to those which occur naturally.

However, the choice can be as much about how lines interact as much as composing the image to ensure they don't meet, lets take a look at image 3.

The lily pads are cut by the edge, giving the viewer the impression of the image being part of a bigger space, but, as you can see the composition of this image has taken careful consideration of the strong reed lines in the image, and in this case, instead of intersection, the composition makes sure that the furthest extremities of these lines never cross, and in fact are equidistant from the edges of the image creating a 'frame of negative space' around the image as displayed by the black line.

Whichever way you chose to use them like in image 2, or exclude them as in image 3, the important lesson here is that that interacting lines between picture and frame have an strong impact on the resulting image, and can be very effective composition tools.


However, using the Rule of Thirds and paying attention to the edges of the picture is only a starting point for successful pictures. It is a simple rule to follow in attempt to achieve Balance, but achieving Balance is probably the most important aspect of composition, and hence explains why compositions other than Rule of Thirds also achieve aesthetically pleasing results. Lets take a look at the use of combining the composition elements discussed to achieve Balance in image 4:

As you can see, this abstract has no physical subject per say, but it is the complex interaction of lines and shapes with each other and the edges of the frame which produce a geometrically and aesthetically interesting result. Its the use of geometric theories which create harmony and Balance, specifically The Golden Rule. The Golden Rule works on a similar theory to the Rule of Thirds, however in this case it is viewed from the diagonal:

A line drawn from corner to corner results in two isosceles triangles, note that the interior is divided into 2 congruent triangles, each with congruent corresponding angles. The ratio of the short side to the long side of each triangle is .618 and the ratio of the long side to the short side is 1.618. This is regarded by the Greeks as the beautiful proportions, Now construct a perpendicular to the diagonal to one of the open corners. The interior is now divided into several triangles of different size, but note that each is a right angle similar to the other, just proportionally different in size according to the same proportions above, indicating that their corresponding sides are proportional and their corresponding angles are congruent. All of the triangles are "Golden Triangles." As you can see, the point where the perpendicular meets the diagonal lines meet corresponds very closely one of the points of intersection regarded as aesthetically pleasing using the rule of thirds. Obviously if you drew the diagonals both ways and formed 4 perpendicular triangles you would get points of interest very similar to the Rule of Thirds:

Lets go back to the image:

This image has very literally been composed using this theory, in fact it is almost an abstract representation of the rule itself, if you look at the yellow lines which follow the strong leading lines of the photograph, the picture has been composed exactly using this theory. At the same time, the composition pays strict attention to the points at which the diagonal lines cross the frame, illustrated by the red arrows:

a) The central point equidistant from all four corners.
b) The fattest structural lines cross exactly in the bottom corners, creating perfect golden triangles.
c) The strong central line at the top of the image cuts the top edge of the frame in half creating symmetry.
d) The strong visual point of the triangular shaped roof is kept in the picture and so does not touch the top corner, but still the tip is composed equidistant from the top of the frame and the left of the frame, for geometric balance.

Who knew the students of maths and geometry (the Greeks) could introduce us to such a wonderful conceptual grasp of art.


So, now you have seen composition theory at work using rules and geometry, but what about those pictures that work in spite of those rules. Again it boils down to Balance, but it generally requires bringing in an extra elements. Lets look at the use of Framing and Perspective in picture 5:

Here you can see that the subject is not on the third or in the golden intersection, nor are the strong lines defining perfect thirds, so what has been done to composition to achieve this? Well, Balance has been maintained by ensuring lines and points of interest are all equidistant from the frame and geometrically spaced, but few few extra things have been brought into use in this case:

Framing: Although the subject (the woman) is very small, she is framed strongly by the lines of the architecture, as illustrated by the yellow lines. This technique of using a frame within a frame draws the viewer to a specific point in the image, re-inventing the focal point and thus allowing a break from the rules. Composition thus becomes a essential part of the interpretation of the image, because the image is making a statement about the framing of the subject, without relying on the frame itself. This composition technique works very successfully as it draws the composition to the viewers attention, in effect not leaving the viewer to rely on his/her own aesthetic triggers, and allows the photographer more compositional freedom.

Perspective: The composition of this photograph and the spaces between strong lines heavily relies on perspective, the position and angle from which the photographer tilts the camera. Vertically converging lines clearly indicate height, and by pointing the camera up and leaving the subject right at the bottom of the picture, the size effect is compounded. The vertical lines help to press the subject into the bottom, whilst the narrowing vertical lines do the same. The compositional choice using an alternative perspective has pushed the viewer away from the aesthetic points of interest (rules) and towards the subject.

In a nutshell, Framing and Perspective are rules that can effectively help you to break the rules if you want to, but remember, if you are going to do this you should to have a good understanding of these composition techniques and the relationship between subject, space, lines and edges, because, to grasp the viewer by going outside the standard rules, you are now drawing attention to the act of composition itself.

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