Friday, January 26, 2007

Keeping it simple: Composition

A photographer with whom I had the privilege of working when I was a photo buyer had a slogan, “Simple pictures are best.” His pictures were indeed simple and among some of the best I’ve ever seen. I’ve tried to put his philosophy into practice since seriously taking up the hobby of photography eight years ago.

There are two sides to photographic simplicity. There’s the simplicity (or lack of it) in the final image that’s created. Then there’s the simplicity of thought that goes on behind the lens as the picture is being created. I believe the two are related. I’ve studied some complex photographic theories and tried to boil them down to a few simple basics that I regularly use in making pictures, and those are the things I share here at Ready, Aim, Click.

So here’s a simplification of some complex theories of composition. I’ll admit that this is brand new thinking on my part, and I have not had a chance to fully field test it, but count on it that I will.

The rules of composition are based on the golden mean, a classic school of thought based on mathematically-based subdivisions of space that create visually appealing patterns and designs. That’s the complex part. Here’s my simplification: If you draw a diagonal line from any corner of a photograph to its opposite corner, placing your main subject anywhere on that diagonal line will result in a pleasing composition. This assumes that your background is fairly simple and that it’s quite obvious what your subject is.

The large photo at the top has our subject floating on a diagonal line from the top left to bottom right of the frame. The smaller photos are crops that place our subject on various spots on the diagonal lines. The third introduces additional subjects on the opposing diagonal, which opens up other possibilities. Each change in placement creates subtle shifts in meaning for each photo; try framing up several possibilities the next time you're shooting, then decide which one works best for you.

Like I said, I plan to play with this idea and will post some results here in the near future. And I’m not declaring the rule of thirds null and void.


Photos © 2007 James Jordan. Click on pictures to enlarge.

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