Category Archives: Composition

When the Rule of Thirds Helps Me Most

Ranch House Laurie BD-3168-2

Question: Is the photo above this text better than the image below?

Ranch House Laurie BD-3168

I think the photo at the top is far superior to the other, even though the differences seem minor. For me, the “rules” of composition become more important as my frames become simpler, as much about shapes as subjects.

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 12.52.40 PM

As you can see in this cropping overlay from Lightroom, the dark center of the flower is precisely aligned with one of the points of interest as understood in the “rule of thirds.” This composition adds space at the bottom and reduces space at the sides. The difference between the two is most visible when they are side-by-side in thumbnail format, which suggests to me that the rule-of-thirds version makes better use of negative space.

In the rule-of-thirds version, I feel like every line is contributing to the composition, keeping the eye moving around the frame and then back to the flower. I don’t always compose by the rule of thirds, but it is ALWAYS my point of departure when shooting and I ALWAYS explore it during post-processing cropping.

A lot of my photographer friends have grown ambivalent toward the rule of thirds – others have developed an enmity: Who wants to be constrained in the act of personal creative expression? I do! I want to learn the language through which I have chosen to express myself.

Leave a comment

Filed under Composition, Uncategorized

Conspicuous Composition: Favorites and Challenges from The Year of Square

Most Year of Square images were last-minute, grudging snapshots, but I still tried to make the composition matter.

Most Year of Square images were last-minute, grudging snapshots, but I still tried to make the composition matter.

I have been told there are no right angles in nature, but I don’t believe it. Nature’s basic operating principle is infinite diversity. I’m sure there are right angles out there somewhere.

Still, you’d have to scan the countryside pretty intently to come up with a rectangle that wasn’t man-made. Good luck finding a perfect square in a field of flowers. This, I think, was the biggest lesson of my Year of Square photo-a-day project: a square is an unnatural shape that calls attention to itself.

Hasselblad shooters and others created iconic square images, but we are accustomed to seeing photographs presented as rectangles. I found the square format challenging. All the usual “rules” of composition apply, but under tighter constraints. Three-plus weeks into the project, I produced an image that interested me:

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Camera Gear, Composition, Motivation

The Last Month of The Year of Square

As the Year of Square draws to a close, I must reflect on what I've learned about photography, and what it means that I take so many pictures in bars.

As the Year of Square draws to a close, I must reflect on what I’ve learned about photography, and what it means that I take so many pictures in bars.

This is the final month of the Year of Square. Thank goodness. Soon I’ll review the 360-ish images and figure out what I’ve learned. I fear it will have something to do with not being good at long-term self-assignments… Z

Leave a comment

Filed under Composition

Raising My Standards Means Actually Applying What I Know

My favorite image - of 2,700!

My favorite image – of 2,700!

So here’s the thing: As much as I enjoy being a lazy, disorganized, impatient photographer, I may have to compromise my principles to make uncompromising photographs. That is to say, I may have to become less lazy, more organized, and patient. Maybe. When I started reviewing thousands of images to build a portfolio, I realized that most of my work does not live up to the criteria I would use to judge another’s photos. I must demand excellence from myself in composition, lighting, and moment.  And under these standards, two out of three AIN’T GOOD. Instead of building a portfolio, I built a much bigger reject bin.

And this is great news, because now editing is EASY! If an image doesn’t meet all three criteria, out it goes, and I don’t spend hours in post trying to make bad pictures look good. This does not apply to event documentation, where I sometimes have to share mediocre pictures that are good records. But otherwise, it’s hammer time, and that means that forty-plus years in, I need to get a little more serious about learning photography.

And I have a lot of lessons from this weekend, when I shot 2,700 frames at a dance concert. In future posts, I’m going to write about my travails related to dynamic range, pixel density, focus performance, and a host of gear-related challenges and solutions, but today I want to talk about the simplest way to improve our photos – simple but not always easy. And you’ve heard it a thousand times before: Get closer.

Here is one of my favorite dance images, which I made at a Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) rehearsal in 2010:

What makes this image different from most of my dance images? Actually, it's not "what," it's "where."

What makes this image different from most of my dance images? Actually, it’s not “what,” it’s “where.”

And here is a “good enough” document from this weekend that doesn’t meet my criteria as a photograph:

My old nemesis, compression.

My old nemesis: Compression.

Long focal lengths and distance to subject produce a compression effect. A 200mm lens, used from the very back of the theater, compresses foreground and background, making the image look less three-dimensional.  That can be a great effect for a lot of subjects, but with multiple dancers on stage, I’d prefer a sense of depth. For the SBCC image, where you can clearly feel the distance between the dancers, I was seated in the front row – at stage level – using a 17-55 f/2.8 lens. Note that we’re not talking about depth of field here, because the dancers in the background appear pretty sharp, but you still get a sense of depth.

There is no question in my mind that I make better dance photos when I am closer to the stage, but it simply isn’t possible most of the time, since audiences don’t like someone standing in front of them, clicking incessently. Knowing this, I look for opportunities like the image at the top of this post, where compression does not appear to distort the image, but probably helps it.

Next time, I’ll explore how I somehow managed to increase both my keeper rate and my frustration during this weekend’s dance concerts. It was all worth it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Camera Gear, Composition, Dance and Theater, Lighting, Professional vs. Amateur

Year of Square Update

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 9.24.14 PM

Here are the most recent twelve days of the Year of Square, and I think my compositional skills are slowly improving. I’m not sure whether the principles are different for squares and rectangles, but forcing everything into a square is forcing me to stay more conscious of composition. I may aspire to be a role model for lazy, disorganized, impatient photographers, but I don’t want to be undisciplined. When opportunity arises, we do what we have practiced, so I’m going to use the Year of Square to practice finding the light, composing the scene, and catching the moment.

Oh, and here’s a better composed image of the bayberry. It’s not a square, though…

The berry needed more room around it.

The berry needed more room around it.

1 Comment

Filed under Composition, Motivation