Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Composition - Rules or No Rules!

In many of my photography classes I talk about the "Rules of the Thirds" as an important composition lesson. But if you have taken my classes, you'll recall I had mentioned that rules are meant to be broken! In this article, I've included images to back up my lecture and show some of the ways the Rules of Thirds gets used and misused. I chose the following images because some are good and some, well, not so good.

Many times I get caught up in the subject, forget my professional training, and fire away. Then, I look back and ask myself, what was I thinking!

This is how we learn, especially me!

When I first started in photography there no such thing as digital cameras, just rolls of 36 exposure film. Remember those days?? You learned good exposure and composition skills quickly because it cost you to goof up. You didn't know if you've done poorly or well until the previews came back. Now, we just let her rip at no cost and see the results instantly, and for the most part plan on editing back in the studio. I for one, need to slow down and check my composition, and you can learn from all my years of trial-and-error!

The subjects of this post are of a recent trip my wife and I took to visit our daughter and her family in North Caroline and the senior portraits of a close friend. I think you'll be able to tell the difference.

OK, so what are the rules of the thirds you ask? If you remember tic tac toe, two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, you are familiar with this simple grid. When placed over an image, the tic-tac-toe board divides an image into thirds vertically and horizonally. We use these intersection points or the lines of the thirds for compositional placement. In the first image and several others I've placed a grid to show where the intersection points are located. Notice the subjects are located at or close to the intersections of composition.

Next, with two subjects that are not in the thirds land marks you need to choose a primary and secondary. In this case I've placed Sarah in the thirds. As a bonus tip, note that both subjects are to the left looking into the photograph as opposed to coming in tight from the right of DJ and having them look out. Always allow that space in your composition.

In this next image, notice how Beccah is on the left third vertically but centered horizonally. Here again I choose to place her that way and bend the rules! If I would have created this with her on an intersecting point, there would be too much dead area either on the top or bottom of the image. Sometimes you have to make the call.

In this next one, the client wanted the sign of the bridge as part of the composition. I had to use a low camera angle to make this work and place both her and the sign in the oposing intersection points!

I think it worked!

As with the first image of Beccah, I chose to center her vertically and do the thirds from the top.

OK, so here is where I didn't do so good. In this image below, I was trying to incorporate some compositional elements by including the pink Dogwood but it didn't work. The branches were too high and I ended up composing her dead center to include them. I had a ladder that I didn't use to get higher. The angle would have put the branches where I needed them and placed her in the upper third.

The next two images held a special challange, and you must remember when working with kids you only have about three seconds to compose and create your image. Now, to make the first image better, I should have come in closer and balanced DJ and the hub (center hole of the propeller) on the vertical thirds. I can still do that post processing, but again, if you don't have editing software, you can't do that, so, compose behind the lens!!!

The second image: No other way of composing this one - Break the rules! Notice how the blades lead you to that cute face! One of my challanges of that weekend with the kids was to compose an image with DJ smiling! He's a tough one to catch! Of the many we have, less than 1% of them have a smile.

This next two were lucky catches. You know how kids are. Do these work being centered? Your call, let me know!

In this one, again, I think because of the composition around DJ, centering was the only way to go.

This last one is a bonus, leading lines. Notice how it draws you in, shame it was such an overcast day!

Remember, weather you are taking candids while traveling on vacation or doing work for a client, composition matters! Take the time to compose behind the lens, and ask yourself if the rules of the thirds matter. You are the artist; you really can do what you want, but make sure you have a good reason. Until next time, keep that camrea with you!