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Composition: a brief tutorial
#1
[Image: 3001pano_websigSmaller.jpg]

I thought it a helpful idea to provide a brief "how to" on this subject. This is not to "teach granny to suck eggs": most, if not all of you on these boards, not only have an instinctive grasp of how to arrange a shot but have a much more unique and dynamic style than I. However, it goes without saying that what one photographer does seemingly at ease, another often struggles with, whether it be composition, strength of subject or a host of other matters such as choice of lens or post-processing.
This little "tutorial" then, is merely for those who feel it might be of some help or interest. It will take the form of brief analyses of one shot I took recently, the Wales "panorama" on the Showcase section.
I must stress that whereas I've broken down features of this shot into concrete building-blocks, I most certainly do not consciously think of these nor have I ever done so...this is analysis post hoc, if you like. I just "do" it, in a very similar manner to my approach to guitar-playing: I've no idea of what scales I should be using, I do the notes as they feel right. The obvious drawback to this approach is, I guess, a learnt or inate resistance to both rules and being told properly how to do things! It is in the spirit of having a method, then, that I submit this.
Please bear with the didactic approach...I adopt the style merely to fit the medium, not through any sense of condescension.

As you look through this, text will always follow the image.

Firstly:

[Image: subjA.jpg]

"Rule of" Thirds. Yes, over-used...no, I haven't a clue who invented it if anyone ever did. Suffice it to say, a "mapping" of the frame onto a grid approximating thirds seems, to me, aesthetically strong and somehow harmonious. I've no doubt Thomas Aquinas or Plato have many things to say about harmony, radiance, quidditas(whatness!)...I don't. I've roughly shown these areas and notice most of my shots not only conform to this "rule" but also have the main intersection and focal area on the right-hand side. You may also care to see if there are any tones or shapes that are intensified at this junction...or even if areas such as sky and land roughly conform to this.


Secondly,

[Image: subjB.jpg]

"Leading Lines": I'm not sure this exists as a concept but I like to draw the eye in. More than that, I like to try and engage the viewer to somehow walk into and around the shot. Most of my landscapes are in fact shot vertically: I find that(unlike this one) vertical lines somehow get the viewer to travel further into the shot rather than more widely. However in this panoramic format, there is the sheer width to explore. Unless the photographer engages the interest of the viewer repeatedly and in new ways throughout points in the shot, (s)he will lose interest and it will be disengaged with, found to be of little interest. See how here the lines are dealing with the width of travel of the eye: there are meanders and curves in the lines that are mirrored and intensified by repetition elsewhere in the frame...there are also enough separate "points of entry" into the frame to maintain the eye's interest.


Thirdly,

[Image: subjC.jpg]

Notice that the actual pattern of the lines as they form into planes are repeated and reinforced above.


Fourthly,

[Image: subjD.jpg]

There is now an idea not merely of lines into the shot. We are moving now to a feeling of harmony, of sense and relationship, if you like, that is shared by elements of the composition. We see then the emergence of deliberate and repeated patterns of lines...you may wish to relate these to where they roughly appear if one was to superimpose a "thirds" map on top of this...?


Fifthly,

[Image: subjE.jpg]

Now there are certain iterations, a repetition of forms and shapes. Here we have an elongated triangle, in effect. These shapes reinforce and subtlely re-state each other...there is a sense of "purpose" and conscious design. We're not talking of intricacies, merely the repetition and echoing of basic geometrical shapes. Triangles, semicircles, rectangles are the most common:: the eye sees one, then is drawn to another, and I'm sure in some hidden way the senses are almost "relieved" or harmoniously disposed to see and relate to similar shapes.


And finally, sixthly:

[Image: subjF.jpg]

Here we have not merely a repetition of a shape but a chosen amount and placement of it. These vague semicircles are not merely restated for effect, there are 3 of them: again, 3 seems to be a powerful number in compositional terms. I could be reminded here of the 3 notes in a chord triad, or of the "verse, chorus and middle 8" of a song. In the latter of course, there is not just placement of each bit, but a variation in size. In the image, the actual surface areas of the semicircular shapes are balanced and spaced out so that there is not an "overbalancing" of the frame. Indeed, the very placing of them is in a vaguely triangular arrangement. Notice too where they are placed in realtion to the intersection of the nominal "thirds", placed around the focal point where the most light apparently is, and where the eye wishes to end up, hopefully with a sense of "completion" at the journey.

If I were to go further into exactly why all this should be effective, I'd guess that it is something to do with our learned or innate sense of aesthetics or beauty. Put in arty or literary terms, the sense of harmony, balance and integration of the whole, along with the way the parts relate to each other, then the dénouement as the eye ends up "fulfilled" by the journey and arrival...this generates an emotional catharsis, a "release" of effort and tension, giving then stasis or emotional equilibrium. I'm not bandying words about for no reason here, merely offering a philosophical explanation as to why these things might do as they do to us.
At the end of all, some of these approaches may be useful as consciously-wielded tools, which I hope is the case for anyone reading this.
All my stuff is here: www.doverow.com
(Just click on the TOP RIGHT buttons to take you to my Image Galleries or Music Rooms!)
My band TRASHVILLE, in which I'm lead guitarist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6mU6qaNx08
#2
Great Zig, thanks for posting, it's a great summary of the "rules" and I like how you've Illustrated them.

I would suggest that maybe these rules apply more to landscapes - I would imagine portraits would probably have different/additional rules, although there would be some carry over, e.g. rule of thirds etc.

Also I think an important "rule" is subject interest, without which it would be difficult to capture the viewer's attention, and the photo would be meaningless. It works especially well in combination with things like leading lines that lead toward the focal point.

I'd also like to see the unmarked image at the start - without the distraction of the "graffiti" Big Grin


But great job - would love to see others expand on this subject.. Big Grin
#3
Thank you for your spot-on thoughts Jules: have included the unmarked image as reference now. Also, I'd agree that much of this is tailored or skewed towards landscape considerations, and it was with that thought that I submitted the post....yet I'd warrant that much also pertains to other studies and portraits. In many succesful studies or portraits there are considered placements of objects, iterations of tone and planes.
I'd also suggest emphatically that many successful "landscapes" are not merely representational captures, but explorations of mood and comments/reflection upon the photographer's or the "human" condition; likewise, many portraits work also as social or political statements, explorations of "individual and the universe", and a host of other things. I reckon for that very reason, my own "landies" are only rarely photographically representational...instead, I'm aware that often I attempt to merely make use of what is physically "there", in an attempt to communicate that which visibly "isn't".
I was also about to slap my forehead and say, of course, I forgot to mention a strong subject...but as I think of this I'm not sure how true this is...? I reckon a viewer's attention can be captured in other ways than via a subject...I've seen many textural explorations that are seemingly subjectless, yet engage the viewer in different ways and ask different things of the viewer such as a consideration of what the photographer is trying to say(which might be above and beyond the immediate artistic context within the image).
All my stuff is here: www.doverow.com
(Just click on the TOP RIGHT buttons to take you to my Image Galleries or Music Rooms!)
My band TRASHVILLE, in which I'm lead guitarist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6mU6qaNx08
#4
Awesome tutorial - you have outdone yourself here. I'll bet this thread gets a lot of hits over the years from people researching the subject. Your use of overlays to illustrate your concepts is superb.
#5
Turkey got thru then!
All my stuff is here: www.doverow.com
(Just click on the TOP RIGHT buttons to take you to my Image Galleries or Music Rooms!)
My band TRASHVILLE, in which I'm lead guitarist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6mU6qaNx08
  


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Composition: a brief tutorial00