Okay, there’s bound to be some reading this who will no doubt ask,
“What about the Rule of Thirds?”
This is just my opinion, but when you attach the word “rule” to photography, it ruins the whole experience.
After all… my viewfinder doesn’t have a grid or lines.
If I were a sniper you can bet it would.
But I take photographs.
Why would I need such precision and be locked into 3 columns and 3 rows?
This is art. Fun stuff.
The Eyes–In this situation, as with most portraits, the eyes should be the center of attention but should they be in the center literally?
Instead, I think it’s more important we understand how our eyes see objects in a 2- dimensional space.
If Uncle Sam can finance research on projects that bear little or no use to us with little monetary gain, then you can bet the scanning pattern of human eyes is something that has been studied very, very extensively.
Supermarkets, grocery stores and other convenience stores understand this and tailor their product placement accordingly.
Their interior color schemes, height of shelves and so on are carefully picked based on a lot of these studies on how our eyes see.
The online marketeers are even more in tune with these strategies.
I’m sure they have it down exactly how and why certain ads on webpages do better than others.
I don’t need to be telling you why this is important to you the photographer, do I?
Striking image–I didn’t set this one up. It was part of a pyrotechnics display at San Bernardino International Airport. The media was invited to this display. So what has this to do with how our eyes see? Read on about Color Saturation.
Anytime you hold that camera up to your eye and you compose your picture, you are in the act of communicating something to someone.
Doesn’t matter if you’re just doing as landscape.
Good old Ansel Adams said There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.
So you ought to tell your viewer what your subject is. Please don’t make it a game.
Here are some of my suggestions:
Make the subject humongous.
I’m the subject. I’m important.”
There’s no subtlety here.
I’m not saying every subject you take needs to be big and dominant in the viewfinder.
It really depends on how big the final image is going to be displayed.
So when in doubt, compose to make your subject BIG.
Same Butterfly–The wide shot of the butterfly is good but when it’s tight, the image is instantly more arresting.
It minimizes the likelihood that something else in the picture will compete for your viewer’s attention.
Also bear in mind, when I say “BIG” I mean your subject should be composed so that it’s the biggest most dominant object relative to the other objects.
Silhouettes are extremes of contrast, usually with only 2 colors. They grab your attention because they are so stark.
I teach my students how to shoot silhouettes because it is a great device to focus attention with very little fancy know-how.
Contrast, by the way, doesn’t need to be in light and dark. That’s the literal meaning.
Think in terms of size as well.
We’ve all seen the tight picture of just dad’s gigantic hand holding his little newborn’s hand.
Though its appeal is something all humans can universally relate to, it is actually a tale of contrasts in size, isn’t it?
Use Saturated Colors
This next suggestion applies to color photography mostly.
Since our eyes see color, the more saturated or rich and deep the hues, the more our attention is drawn to it.
If you are in a position to set up a photograph and it’s to be shot in color, this is a good technique to keep in mind.
Even though I didn’t set up the picture of the pyrotechnics display, the color of the flames surely illustrate how our eyes are drawn to it.
Use Shapes as Frames
As kid in school, I daydreamed a lot.
I’d look up skywards whenever a plane flew overhead.
I always picked a seat where I could look outside the window.
Suffered the wrath of many a teacher as a result.
See where this is headed?
Even back then I must have thought images need a matte, frame or border around it.
Using frames–This civil marriage ceremony was really no fuss or frills but I was thankful I at least had this trellis to work with. That and the banana leaves made this situation salvageable. Too bad the man in the background wasn’t paying much attention to the proceedings. I decided since I couldn’t interrupt to get him out of the picture, I moved a few inches so his face is obscured by the trellis.
See the picture below of Congressman Jerry Lewis and his wife.
I had to come up with an idea quickly of how to photograph them.
I went inside the building and used that window frame from my childhood to frame them as they stood outside. A flash triggered by radio remote on the left outside the building did the rest.
Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be something solid.
It can just be shadows or leaves like this picture taken in Redlands, California for Inland Empire magazine.
Rule of Thirds
Picture a grid of 3 columns by 3 rows that’s superimposed in your viewfinder.
When composing, you should place your center of interest not smack in the middle, but at the intersection of the lines.
Just because I use the term the center of interest, you don’t have to take things literally.
In this portrait of my student Chayne, eeny, meeny, miny, moe, where should I place her eye?
Notice her far eye is not the “center of interest” since it’s partially obscured by her playful but very cute hair.
Now what happens when placement of my subject at that intersection of those vertical and horizontal lines doesn’t work? I suppose you could shoot even tighter. I dunno.
Like my inability to name my child before seeing their face, I have to see your picture before I can suggest how to compose your picture for you?
I must have lucked out with the portrait of Chayne!
You’re welcome to disagree naturally.
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