Photography forum: The Basics of Good Composition: Beyond the Rule of Thirds

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Name: Sheila Caldon
Aiken, SC (Zone 8a)
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SheilaC
Dec 19, 2014 2:24 PM CST
Forward Motion---Negative Space---Stopping the Eye---Creating Tension

The illusion of movement in a photograph is often created using the element of "forward motion," which is accomplished in different ways. It could often be a line that leads you into the scene, like a fence or railroad track, a line of trees, even repetition of different elements, such as color, within the composition can have this effect. These take your eye along the line with them, moving your eye into the scene and you often get the experience of depth within the photo depending on where the line begins. The illusion of depth is often hard to translate onto a photo because you're obviously dealing with a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional reality. It's a very difficult element to re-create, but, using forward motion will help you simulate it very well. Look for those natural elements that can draw you into the photo and create forward motion.

There's a photo technique known as HDR, "High Dynamic Range," used by those familiar with raw files which converts various exposures for the same image which are then combined for maximum dynamic range. This renders them with more depth and three dimensional qualities. There's also a technique of layering the same in Photoshop which greatly enhances the 3 dimensionality of photographs. I don't know how to use it and don't own it as yet. As I understand it, it involves layering your photo with elements within various copies of the same image. I can't speak directly to either technique, but, maybe someone else can take it up for those more advanced photographers.

In action shots, where you want to show an object in motion, maybe it's a child on a bicycle, or, a bird in flight, you'll want to leave some room in front of them for the natural movement of the subject in action to unfold. In action shots another form of motion can be readily achieved by means of a technique known as "panning" which allows you to keep parts of the subject blurred while rendering others as "stopped in action," or, simply known as the, "stop-action" technique. If you completely stop the illusion of motion, though, it certainly won't have as dramatic an effect of movement that panning does. Panning is achieved by moving your camera along with the subject, basically physically following it's motion with your camera, and then taking the photo. What you'll find is that some part of the photo will be stopped while another will be blurred giving the illusion of movement. If, however, you're using a fast ISO and you've chosen a very fast shutter speed you'll have an object that will be stopped rather than partially blurred. So using a speed of 400 or less will allow you to pan and blur the image. It's an easy technique to master and the effects it renders are hard to get wrong. Give it a try and see what effects you can create with panning!

In portraits, forward motion would be represented by the direction of your subject's gaze. Leaving "negative space" in the direction of their gaze or the direction their body is pointing in allows your eye and, consequently, your mind to move in that direction. It has you wondering what it is they're thinking, or, gazing at, as long as you can't see it that is. Just as in real life, when it comes to faces, a person's eyes are the things we notice first. If you're dealing with the whole person in the shot, the principle is the same. It doesn't matter where their body is placed in relation to their eyes, because even if their body is facing forward and their eyes are looking right or left, even turning their head to look behind them, you're going to naturally want to mentally follow their gaze and your curiosity is to discover what it is that's drawn their attention. If they're walking, or, facing in a certain direction then the direction they're headed in is where you would place some negative space. If they're walking along the beach you'll want to leave some negative space in front of them, same with walking away from you by putting some negative space behind them. Negative space can also be used to draw you into the photo by keeping your point of interest beyond the area of negative space. If there is nothing of interest your eye and mind will move on until it encounters another object. When using forward motion, don't crowd your subject---give them some room.

So, what is negative space? Well, simply put it's any space surrounding the main subject (the positive space) within the photo. It can often be space that's absent of any major distractions, but, not always. It doesn't necessarily have to be "completely" empty of anything at all, though, to be considered negative space. It could just as easily be the blank wall of a building, or, the wide expanse of the sky. Maybe it's a blacked out area, or, one filled with light or white elements. In some cases it could even be a repetitive pattern that takes up a large expanse of space and in that regard is registered by the mind as inconsequential. Just imagine any uncluttered space where your eye doesn't usually stop to rest or have anything to distract it. Negative space can be used to create a sense of "balance" too, and I'll talk more about that in another tutorial. Often times it's a happy accident and other times it's well planned. Most compositions will contain restful areas of negative space that you're not consciously aware of---well, maybe before you came across my tutorials...now, however, you'll be seeing them everywhere! You don't want to keep the mind so busy and the eyes darting here and there forever. And, having said that----sometimes you might... That's the joy of knowing when to do what. Each individual element should relate to the whole and help to tell the story and support your main subject. It really all depends on the tone and the mood you want to set. Anything that keeps the eye in motion is an additional element of the whole and should be supportive of the main subject. Any object found within the negative space is to some degree a distraction with the potential to create "tension" to one degree or another. Some objects are more useful, pleasing and supportive than others, sometimes they're deliberate and then there are those that just don't belong in the composition and are completely at odds with everything else, especially with the main subject. When you're framing your shot, be aware of negative space and those things that may detract from your subject.

A wider expanse of negative space allows for a minimalist and often calming effect that puts much more emphasis on your subject. If you place an object within the negative space of forward motion, for instance, you've just caused the eye to be stopped in it's wanderings. If you do it deliberately, make sure it's a natural part of the composition, otherwise, it will cause unintentional tension within the photo and leave your viewer perturbed and at a loss as to where to go next because they're fixated on that element. You want the eye to flow around the photo taking in all the elements on a subconscious level in relationship to the main subject. When you have too much clutter or nonessential elements in your photo your eye and mind is pulled away from the main subject and sometimes it's swallowed up completely. When you throw up a road block, stopping the eye in it's wanderings, you've just brought them out of their revelry and forced them to mentally deal with the tension it creates. It's psychological, of course, and it's subliminal, but, as the photographer you're the one responsible for their reaction so you need to consider carefully whether or not it's the reaction you intended. When I talk about editing your photo and cropping it for best presentation you'll notice that you can sometimes crop the distraction out completely and no one will every know it existed (but you). Be aware of excess clutter and distractions within the negative space around your subject. Sometimes just by shifting your position, or, changing the depth of field you can often eliminate many of them.

Let me say, though, that deliberately creating tension is a perfectly acceptable element within a composition. It demands attention and is a useful tool in creating the intended mood, especially that of shock and awe. Edgy photos will incorporate elements that cause tension. When you're viewing photographs and you find yourself brought up short by something in them ask yourself whether it was deliberate or not and in what ways it adds or subtracts from the main subject and the composition as a whole. In a good composition you should be able to tell the difference as it relates to the whole.

I've once again borrowed some photographs from Google Creative Commons Images and a Creative Commons website here: http://pixabay.com/en/photos/?image_type=photo&order=best

Keeping those 4 elements in mind, Forward Motion---Negative Space---Stopping the Eye---Creating Tension, study the following photographs and notice those that use it effectively as well as those that contain distracting elements.

Thanks for tuning in!
Beauty pleases, not only the eyes, but, the heart as well. Sheila
[Last edited by SheilaC - Dec 25, 2014 6:26 PM (+)]
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Name: Sheila Caldon
Aiken, SC (Zone 8a)
Dragonflies Butterflies Birds Dog Lover Region: South Carolina Plant and/or Seed Trader
Amaryllis Lilies Daylilies Pollen collector Seed Starter Clematis
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SheilaC
Dec 19, 2014 3:54 PM CST
Oh my! I will now post the photos I forgot to include above! Whistling


Thumb of 2014-12-19/SheilaC/997328
Notice how the roadway draws you into the photo and then out of sight. The movement is repeated in the line of the blue water and again in the mountain ridge. Those are good examples of forward motion as well as "repetition" which I haven't talked about yet. There's several elements, though, that you probably noticed. Those three lines converge on the cope of trees near the center of the photo which are blocking your view. There's another tall tree to the left of the front of the photo which stops your eye on that side too. If they had shifted their position to the left, maybe, they could have eliminated the trees which act as their focal point and gotten more of the reflection in the water, or, the clouds, maybe the distant mountains and sky, or, maybe all three as I believe they had intended. I think what we have is too many elements each vying for your attention and none that really captures it completely.


Thumb of 2014-12-19/SheilaC/fc239a
This is a perfect example of forward motion and using what's referred to as the "vanishing point," which is that point on the horizon where straight lines appear to converge. I think the textures of the stuccoed walls and the old red bricks are interesting in their simplicity and colors. The play of light as it frames the arches keeps your eye moving into it too. I don't know if that's enough to hold my interest or if I want something else to be in view at the end. I don't know, it's peaceful and pleasing and maybe that's enough.


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Here's a good example of forward motion taking your eye around the curve and resting it on the pretty pink trees. From there your eye moves on to notice other elements within the photo. It's nice.


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This is a good example of forward motion taking you to the sunrise. There's some lens flare, but, in this instance I think it adds rather than detracts from the overall composition. I would have edited out the four round flares, the big pink one, a smaller one and the two white ones near the horizon. Overall, a nice color touching the tops of the grass and the clouds are nice as they sweep across the sky. Notice that the edge of the plane with the rising sun begins in the top third and the sun is positioned in the right third with the tire tracks taking your eye up to it. Even the sweep of the clouds takes you to the rising sun again. A good photo for it's overall composition.

I'm going to break here and make dinner and then I'll post some examples of the other elements in our discussion.

Thanks!

Beauty pleases, not only the eyes, but, the heart as well. Sheila
[Last edited by SheilaC - Dec 20, 2014 5:37 AM (+)]
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Name: Sheila Caldon
Aiken, SC (Zone 8a)
Dragonflies Butterflies Birds Dog Lover Region: South Carolina Plant and/or Seed Trader
Amaryllis Lilies Daylilies Pollen collector Seed Starter Clematis
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SheilaC
Dec 19, 2014 7:50 PM CST
I've got some more demonstrations of our topic on "Forward Motion---Negative Space---Stopping the Eye---Creating Tension."


Thumb of 2014-12-20/SheilaC/eb67aa
In this photograph there's several elements that are detracting from the lovely bride. The first thing you'll notice is the lamp above her head and then the blurred area in front of her. Both are capturing the eye and distracting you from the beautiful look on her face. With a bit of cropping and a little tweaking, we can put the focus back on her.

Thumb of 2014-12-20/SheilaC/1f801d


Thumb of 2014-12-20/SheilaC/e2ef07
I went even further and straightened the photo a bit and took the white streak out of the paneling against the back wall. When editing a photo you want to take the horizon line and place it along the line provided on the grid for straightening the photo. In this case I used two separate lines, one vertical and one horizontal. The vertical line was the door frame behind her back and the horizontal was the frame of the window. It became a case of splitting hairs between the two. After "squinting" at the photo---which you should always do in order to spy out any distracting elements---I made the decision to take out the white streak too. If we wanted to play up the back light behind her we could crop it even closer and really draw attention to her face and eyes. Try cropping the photo in different ways and see which best suits your composition. There's more than one way to present it depending on your point of interest and sometimes it's merely a personal preference.

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I think you can see right off the bat the many elements that are crowding the subject of the couple enjoying a pretty sunset. There's just so much going on in the foreground and the background that the overall composition is entirely too cluttered and the subjects are lost in it. I think if the photographer had positioned him/herself in front of them with the setting sun behind him he could still have captured the warm, golden light---sacrificing the view of the water and the sun.


Thumb of 2014-12-20/SheilaC/9a684a
Notice how pleasing this photo is. It's calming and the blacked out space around the orchid flowers are only interrupted by supporting elements of buds and leaves. There are only three main colors with nothing to distract you. The repetition of the shape of the petals have soft edges, as do the buds and leaves. Overall, a very calming, peaceful composition.


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This is an example of a secondary subject competing for your attention and notice that they're almost equal in size and shape and it causes obvious tension, being a blatant distraction from the woman in the photo. Shift over and reframe your subject. If you want the statue in the photo make sure it's not as prominent or of equal size to your subject. I would definitely throw it out of focus too so it's not competing for your attention. It might even be best to photograph them separately. nodding


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There's a nice balance of positive and negative space in this photo.


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Other than being overexposed, there's so much noise in the negative space around the bride and groom that I think the best thing they could have done was move them against a much more quiet background, maybe the stone wall, basically anything to quiet down the space around them. There's a circle with a light pole in the middle of it and it's positioned right next to the bride.

Be mindful of those distractions around your subject or focal point. It only takes a few seconds to shift your position, or, to re-frame the shot from a different perspective. You have to consciously make those decisions at first and as you train yourself to "see" differently it'll become second nature after long.

I'll try to find some photos of panning and stop-action. If anyone has some please feel free to post them.

A dear friend of my niece's has a great eye for composition and balancing negative space, light and dark elements. All I did was to help with the final editing. My niece, Becky, is due February 14th and I'll leave you with a beautiful photo of her and Kevin! Smiling


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Beauty pleases, not only the eyes, but, the heart as well. Sheila
[Last edited by SheilaC - Dec 20, 2014 6:30 AM (+)]
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Name: Sheila Caldon
Aiken, SC (Zone 8a)
Dragonflies Butterflies Birds Dog Lover Region: South Carolina Plant and/or Seed Trader
Amaryllis Lilies Daylilies Pollen collector Seed Starter Clematis
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SheilaC
Dec 21, 2014 11:09 PM CST
Some more examples of the importance of negative space, using forward motion and stop action.

In the following example the electric wire that's cutting across the photo draws your eye to it and it seems to get stuck there. The barn on one side of them is running into their silhouette on his side. By editing out the wire and one smoke stack then cropping the photo closer around the couple you can greatly lesson the distractions and try to recapture the romantic mood at sunset. Often, just by shifting your position and being aware of distracting elements when you're framing the shot and before you ever depress the shutter you can eliminate those distractions all together and save lots of time in the editing process.

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Edited photo

In this portrait you'll notice some distracting pieces of wood or shrubs right in front of his head in the negative space above him. A slight shift in your position and it can be completely eliminated.

Thumb of 2014-12-22/SheilaC/2250a9

When framing your shot take a moment to be mindful of all that's filling the space around your subject. When you're reviewing your images look carefully for any distractions, that way you can correct for them and take another photo if need be.

The next examples are of the way you can represent movement and forward motion by the techniques of leaving open negative space in front of your subject and by panning and stop-action.

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Thumb of 2014-12-22/SheilaC/3c6c6a by Rajaraman Sanjeevi -- Wikicommons
Isn't that a magnificent photo?

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I imagine it took some patience to get this shot. A very fast shutter speed will give you this kind of stopped action.


Thumb of 2014-12-22/SheilaC/e781e9 Photo by Frank Winkler

Thumb of 2014-12-22/SheilaC/45248b by Frank Winkler
The beautiful flowing water effect is achieved by leaving the shutter open for probably two or three seconds, maybe more. Could be some Photoshop involved too, but, I don't think that's necessarily true. Beautiful photos.

This last photo by Xuuxuu has got to be the fastest car ever made! Blinking

Thumb of 2014-12-22/SheilaC/c01897

Beauty pleases, not only the eyes, but, the heart as well. Sheila
[Last edited by SheilaC - Dec 25, 2014 5:56 PM (+)]
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Name: Sheila Caldon
Aiken, SC (Zone 8a)
Dragonflies Butterflies Birds Dog Lover Region: South Carolina Plant and/or Seed Trader
Amaryllis Lilies Daylilies Pollen collector Seed Starter Clematis
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SheilaC
Dec 22, 2014 10:34 AM CST
A few more examples of negative space and creating the illusion of forward motion by following the subject's gaze.


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Here's a perfect example of good placement of the negative space following the stallions gaze. A very powerful photo.

Thumb of 2014-12-22/SheilaC/ac0157 by Ron Porter

Thumb of 2014-12-22/SheilaC/9ce40b by Ron Porter
If you leave enough space around your subject you can crop it to it's best advantage later. If you've boxed yourself in to close you'll be limited in what you can do when editing. Of course, you can always fill the photo completely with a close up crop if all else fails...

I'll give one more example of what might seem to some as nit-picking, but, once you begin to "see" differently these "little" things will start to jump out at you and if you ever want to enter your photos in a contest, believe me, the judges will pick up on it right away. A good camera will take good photos, but, it doesn't compose a good composition for you. Often, though, wildlife photography is being there in the moment and you don't get to frame the shot perfectly. That's alright, just make your adjustments in editing.

Thumb of 2014-12-22/SheilaC/b5178b unedited

Thumb of 2014-12-22/SheilaC/b0e993 edited


I'll pick up on the tutorials after the holidays are over. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Christmas!

Thanks for tuning in!

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Beauty pleases, not only the eyes, but, the heart as well. Sheila
[Last edited by SheilaC - Dec 22, 2014 10:41 AM (+)]
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Name: Sheila Caldon
Aiken, SC (Zone 8a)
Dragonflies Butterflies Birds Dog Lover Region: South Carolina Plant and/or Seed Trader
Amaryllis Lilies Daylilies Pollen collector Seed Starter Clematis
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SheilaC
Jan 27, 2015 11:59 AM CST
Hi Everyone!

I haven't forgotten you! We were on vacation for 2 weeks and then I had a bunch to catch up on. I'm working on the next tutorials and will have it posted in a couple of days!

Talk to you then!

Beauty pleases, not only the eyes, but, the heart as well. Sheila
Name: Steve
Millbury, MA (Zone 5b)
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steve_mass
Jan 31, 2015 7:43 AM CST
Thanks Sheila. These are really great tutorials.

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Stop and Shop Tulips

Steve
Name: mj
Central Florida
Butterflies Hummingbirder Keeps Horses Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Plant and/or Seed Trader Region: Florida
Garden Ideas: Level 1
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mjsponies
Jan 31, 2015 9:58 AM CST
Sheila I really enjoyed this tutorial, looking forward to more ! Thank You!
God gave us wings. He just called them horses
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Photo Contest Winner: 2015
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dirtdorphins
Jan 31, 2015 11:10 AM CST
Shelia, I would really appreciate 'how to' info on editing photos, too!
How in the world do you get rid of power lines and chimneys and bright streaks and whateverall distracting background elements?
I'm all ears! I'm all ears! I'm all ears!
Name: Sheila Caldon
Aiken, SC (Zone 8a)
Dragonflies Butterflies Birds Dog Lover Region: South Carolina Plant and/or Seed Trader
Amaryllis Lilies Daylilies Pollen collector Seed Starter Clematis
Image
SheilaC
Feb 11, 2015 4:21 PM CST
Hi--thanks for your kind remarks everyone! I'm glad you're finding these useful and informative.

Dirtdorphins, I plan on covering the all important editing process at the end of the composition tutorials. It really is one of the most important things we should learn about after we've taken the time to compose a beautiful photograph!

I'm readying the next tutorial and will post it after dinner tonight. That would be in about 3 hours from now!

Hang in there and we'll get to that very important topic!

Thanks! Be back very soon!
Beauty pleases, not only the eyes, but, the heart as well. Sheila

aparnabis
Jun 22, 2015 10:22 AM CST
I am enjoying reading these tutorials. Thank you. I have always liked to take pictures but now you are opening my eyes to real photography. I will now start experimenting and implementing these techniques.
Thank You!
Southeast US (Zone 7b)
Organic Gardener Permaculture Vegetable Grower Dog Lover Keeps Goats Keeps Horses
Keeper of Poultry Beekeeper Canning and food preservation Garden Photography
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GoatDriver
Jun 22, 2015 2:12 PM CST
SheilaC said:

Thumb of 2014-12-22/SheilaC/e781e9 Photo by Frank Winkler

Thumb of 2014-12-22/SheilaC/45248b by Frank Winkler
The beautiful flowing water effect is achieved by leaving the shutter open for probably two or three seconds, maybe more. Could be some Photoshop involved too, but, I don't think that's necessarily true. Beautiful photos.



Those images are not produced by slow shutter..They were made by using a software plug-in called Fractalius by Redfield Plugins.
More info here...http://www.redfieldplugins.com/filterFractalius.htm



Examples from my files
Thumb of 2015-06-22/GoatDriver/c04143

Thumb of 2015-06-22/GoatDriver/205745




[Last edited by GoatDriver - Jun 22, 2015 2:17 PM (+)]
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Name: Catmint/Robin
Maryland (Zone 7a)
Region: Mid-Atlantic Butterflies Forum moderator Native Plants and Wildflowers Bee Lover Echinacea
Region: Maryland Garden Photography Cottage Gardener Garden Ideas: Master Level Celebrating Gardening: 2015 The WITWIT Badge
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Catmint20906
Aug 2, 2015 5:50 PM CST
Wow tons of good info here!! Hurray! Hurray!
"One of the pleasures of being a gardener comes from the enjoyment you get looking at other people's yards”
― Thalassa Cruso

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