Thursday, August 28, 2014

First Assignment: Understanding the basics of good composition

According to Chris Knight, the writer of The Ultimate Guide to Composition, there are 5 main 'guidelines' to follow in order to achieve at least half-decent composition in a photograph (or a film shot). These guidelines include the following techniques: center composition, the rule of thirds, golden triangles, the diagonals, and the golden ratio/rectangles/spiral. It's been brought to my attention by this composition guru that you pretty much need one of these 5 framing techniques in order to have a shot that even has a chance of being a pleasant one. Well, here's my opinion on these 5 composition guidelines as laid out by Mr. Knight. I'm sorry in advance.

Center composition, put simply, places the most important objects in an image in the center. When done correctly (as displayed in the image to the right), this type of composition can work very effectively in creating a certain feel to a shot. What is that person doing all the way out there? Are they lost? Reminiscent? Suicidal? I have no idea. The shot certainly makes you wonder, though, doesn't it? Not only does it evoke some sort of emotion, but it's also extremely aesthetically pleasing. The person is placed exactly in the vertical center of the frame along with the horizon in the horizontal center. Knight did a decent job explaining this.

Next we have the rule of thirds. Now, if you've ever attended a Park class, picked up a camera, or have lived in the modern world, you've heard about the rule of thirds. It's not a particularly hard concept to grasp. You basically just imagine (or many cameras will even show you on the viewfinder) four evenly spaced lines that divide the shot into nine sections. You then place the important objects in the shot on these lines, and you place the absolute most important objects on the intersections, like the subject's eyes. Knight explains that this kind of off-center composition adds more visual interest and tension for viewers. I mean, he's right. I don't know why there needed to be such a detailed explanation of the topic, but what the hell. Power to you, Guru Knight.

This third composition technique is completely beyond my understanding. The golden triangles is basically when the photographer divides the frame into three or four triangles, with the 'major line' dividing the image diagonally, and with one or two 'reciprocal lines' perpendicularly intersecting the major line from the corners of the frame. Just look at the image of the Eiffel Tower. It'll save you a whole lot of grief rather than trying to understand my explanation. Now, I'm not sure if I'm just not grasping the concept, or if Knight's explanation is simply terrible. Probably the first one, but hear me out. When looking at the Eiffel Tower, nothing particularly important is on the lines' intersection. Yeah, it's the center of the tower, but I feel that the shot would look exactly the same if the photographer had just aligned the tower with the major line. Am I wrong? I don't think so. If there's something obvious that I'm missing, comment on the post. I'd love to better understand this concept. Please and thank you.

I usually like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent guy, but in this case, unfortunately, I don't quite understand the composition technique of the diagonals either. You win some, you lose some. Am I right? Anyway, Knight explains the concept of diagonals as splitting an image from corner to corner with either a Baroque Diagonal (read left to right) or a Sinister Diagonal (read right to left). I have two things to say about Knight's explanation of the ballerina image. He says the diagonal used in the composition is a Sinister Diagonal (read right to left). He says the ballerina's eyes line up with the ballerina's pointed toe on the right. First of all, wouldn't a person looking at the photograph immediately look at the ballerina facing us, forcing the viewer to start at the left of the image? Second, the ballerina isn't looking anywhere near the pointed toe. She's looking off to the right, not down. How was the pointed toe chosen as the second object to decide which way the diagonal would lean? Either this photograph is a very poor example of the use of diagonals for composition, or I'm missing something very important here. I usually like to assume I'm not the wrong one.

Last but not least, we have our famous golden ratio/rectangles/spiral concept. This is probably the most useful composition technique out there. It's not only used in photography, but can even be found in architecture and music. For its high level of universality, the golden ratio is an unbelievably simple concept. I'm not going to go into specifics (you can find those here), but all it takes is a little math, really. Knight doesn't do a terrible job of explaining the technique, either. Even I understood it. Kind of. The golden ratio is a fascinating concept. I strongly recommend you look more into it. You'd be absolutely amazed at all of its applications.

All in all, Composition Guru Knight did a quasi decent job of explaining the five main composition techniques all photographers should take into consideration when framing a shot. For all of you folks out there with a camera, take note.

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