Keep Your Composure


Welcome to another edition of Let’s Talk Photography!  As we move from one topic to the next, you’ll find me bouncing between basic camera information for beginners and more advanced topics for those of us “photo nerds” out there.  I want to maintain interest for as many photo enthusiasts as possible.  This topic, however, applies to everyone and it deals with composing your photograph to make it more interesting.

Composition is important in that it gives your photograph life.  You never look at the world centered directly in front of you and you should take that into consideration when setting up your shots.  So, what makes a good composition?  There are several “rules” and steps that go into making an interesting photo, but it’s really all about the focal point of the subject and how the elements of the image force your eye to see exactly what you intended to be that focal point.

The first rule that you will get beaten into your brain once you start studying or learning photography is the Rule of Thirds.  This is a very basic rule and, when put into practice, it creates an interesting difference in your photos.  The Rule of Thirds suggests that you should look at your photo as if it’s separated into thirds both vertically and horizontally.  Think of a tic-tac-toe game.  Take your frame in your camera and imagine there is a tic-tac-toe board on the screen.  You’ll have three squares on the top row, three squares in the middle row and three squares on the bottom row.  The idea behind the rule of thirds is that you should place your subject somewhere along the guide lines of your tic-tac-toe board or put the focal point on top of one of the intersecting points (the corners of the center box) in order to draw the eye to the subject.  This rule also dictates that you put the horizon on either the top or bottom guide line.  When using this rule, the center of the image is forbidden.  Well, unless you attend a seminar and listen to a professional photographer talk about composition, then they will tell you that “some rules are made to be broken” or “it’s good to know the rules first, then learn when and why to break them.”  I happen to agree that with some photos, you’ll see a very visual difference when you apply this rule.  Taking into consideration the photo above, you’ll notice that I was able to capture the shot with the rider in the top right of the frame and off to the right side of the photo.  By doing this, I was able to give the photo the sense of motion through the frame and the perception of height.  I kept myself low to the ground so that I would be shooting upward and getting a lot of the ceiling in the shot to show how high the rider was travelling off the ramp.  Give this a try and you’ll find that sometimes, taking things off center can be more visually interesting.

And now, just as quickly as I introduced you to that rule, I’m going to ask you to forget it.  Hold on, don’t call me a kook just yet, bear with me.

This image happened to be my absolute favorite of all the images I shot at the Gateway Center.  I’ve been recently studying something called Dynamic Symmetry which contains way too many principals for me to explain in one article so I’ll touch on it little by little as we go along.

Dynamic Symmetry can be found in some of the greatest works of art and has been put into practice to create and compose some of the most visually attractive photos and paintings.  It deals with triangles that create a more complex set of guide lines for you to follow when setting up your image.  Now, in this case, I confess I didn’t know about it when the image was taken, however, when I lay a simple dynamic symmetry guide (this one is called a 1.5 armature, or root 1.5 triangle) you can see that the image follows this symmetry as if it were on purpose.  His legs follow two of the guides, the line at the top of the ramp follows another, the back tire is setting perfectly atop the lower horizontal line and directly to the left of the left vertical line and his front tire sits right on top of the upper horizontal line and directly to the right of the right vertical line, his black gloves and black front tire all follow a different guide line and his left hand and left foot are both sitting directly on top of intersecting lines.

As I mentioned, I didn’t intend for this to happen at the time, but I truly believe that this explains why I absolutely love this image. 

I know; that was a geometry class of a read but these are some of the concepts that will give your photography an edge over others.  I encourage you to go straight to the Internet and start searching for Dynamic Symmetry in photography and give a little bit of time to the different principals.  It’s fascinating to see how lines, angles, areas of contrast, curvilinear elements, negative space, and many other factors can create a stunning photograph and set you apart from the snap shot taker.  I’m more of a snap shot taker that happens to get some of these things right by accident and I think that’s pretty darn good.  The point is you always want to strive to learn something new in order to open creative doors that will keep you interested in a hobby such as this.  If you don’t find things like this to keep your mind engaged, then you’ll find your camera getting dustier as it sets longer on a shelf because you’ve lost your interest.

Have fun composing!