Thursday, March 01, 2007

Design in photography #2

Welcome to the second article on design. If you missed the first here it is.

There’s a lot to cover and we’ll get there eventually. I think it will take another two or three articles.

For now let’s look at a few advanced design strategies.

Anchoring the subject, or the lead into the subject, to the edges of the frame. This can introduce a feeling of structure and stability to the subject as well as enhancing the sense of strong design within a composition.

Creating a path for the eye to follow. When you design an image you need to lead the viewer’s eye through the composition and make it easy for their eye to move from one element to another. The key here is how easily the eye can move through the composition without being distracted. Western people tend to scan an image starting top left and they then ‘read’ the image zig zagging down and leaving at the bottom right. Of course using strong colour or subjects of interest like faces will change the starting point but overall we still read an image from left to right.

Make use of space within your image. Don’t cramp your subject. Give it room to breathe. The ‘blank’ space can be just as important as the space within the image filled with your subject. All too often photographers produce ‘postage stamp portraits’ (just the head) without using space or indeed cropping tightly to create interest in the image.

Strong lines within a composition can be used to draw attention to the subject and create a dynamic feeling. Think about the way the lines are working in your composition. Look at the relationships between:
  1. Strong horizontal lines
  2. Lines of different depth and thickness
  3. Vertical lines
  4. Circles
  5. Contrasting lines
  6. Diagonals (incredibly powerful – whether actual or implied in the composition)
  7. Groups of lines
Another powerful device is using the foreground to frame the subject. Frames within frames are particularly powerful, even if implied.

Perhaps one of the most important considerations in photography is the balance and relationship between light and dark areas. To understand this more clearly take one of your images and invert it so that you see it as a negative. You will then clearly see the relationship and spread of light and dark areas across the frame, albeit inverted. Having used BW film and developed it myself in the darkroom, I’m quite used to looking at negatives. I guarantee I can spot an image with good potential by just holding a neg up to the light and looking at it. If the pattern of light and dark areas looks interesting you know you are a good deal of the way to having a really stunning image. Some photographers refer to this as the skeleton of the image. And like any skeleton it’s the structure on which all else depends and hangs.

I’ve touched on using empty space. Of course it is never empty. It’s merely out of focus or a different colour etc. The background plays a vital part in that it sets the stage for your subject. A disturbing background is the death of many picture. It’s hugely important.

A lot has been written on the Golden Ratio. Here I will refer you to an excellent article on Wikipedia, which puts it better than I could.

That’s enough for now. More soon….

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