|| Composition Guidelines
All human brains are wired much the same. Certain things catch
our brain's attention, because our visual cortex "fires up" when these features
are present. (Warning! Warning! Boring scientific discussion approaching!) Some are
obvious: color contrasts (red rock, blue sky) make the brain pay attention;
repeating units (the spires of Castle Valley) really get the neurons going; and to bring every axon in the
occipital lobe on-line, nothing beats seeing an eyeball. Other "brain
preferences" are more subtle. Your visual system likes to gaze on diagonal lines
longer than vertical or horizontal ones. Within a frame, your brain prefers its
interesting subject be located off-center.
Use the "rule of thirds." Draw two
lines horizontally to divide the picture into three strips. Now draw two vertical lines to
divide it into three columns. Any point where these lines intersect is the ideal location
for the main visual interest of your picture.
||The "rule of thirds" says that dominant objects
are more visually interesting if they fall around the intersection of
lines dividing the photo into thirds vertically and horizontally.
In this photo of Gary climbing up the Slickrock Trail, his body falls
on a vertical "third" line, and the head is at an intersection
with a horizontal "third."
But imagine if Gary were at the same place, heading downhill. The photo
would seem claustrophobic.
This would violate our "open up a space" principle, discussed
||Here the sky, background, and foreground each occupy
one-third of this photo of Poison Spider Mesa. But on the right-to-left
orientation, I chose to frame Gary a bit inside the line of the "left
third." This makes Gary a more compelling subject than the vista.
Mentally, move the biker 1/2 inch to the left
(further away from the center of the photo). See how the clouds, canyon,
and rocks dominate the picture? Still a good photo, but a different
"story" or feel.
Get down and shoot up. The lower viewpoint brings the horizon
into the picture. You may be able to isolate your subject from nearby
||For this photo, I'm lying on the sandstone with the camera
pressed against rock, to get the maximum upward angle of the lens. This
puts the Matt against the sky above Bartlett Wash, for a dramatic effect.
||But you shouldn't always "get down." For this
photo of Matt and Jackie on Tibble Fork, I needed to show that the trail
angled downhill. So I climbed onto the uphill side of the trail, stood on
tiptoes, and shot from higher than eye-level.
By shooting from above, it demonstrates the downward angle of bike and
Make use of diagonal lines. A line or path is most visually interesting if
it runs diagonally through the picture.
||This photo is dramatic, not just for the omygosh difficulty,
but also because the chute and the biker's path cut a diagonal through the
photo. (Note: Mike also obeys the "rule of thirds" as he
descends the Toilet Bowl at Bartlett Wash.)
Try to put any line (including the rock-sky border) on a diagonal, if
it makes sense. For example, a row of fence posts appears best, not facing
the camera straight-on, but angling up and away.
Open up a path. In your picture, anything
that moves needs a path to continue that action. And anything with eyes needs some open
space to look at. Imagine the photo above with the biker at the LOWER LEFT
third. It wouldn't look "comfortable." Each actor in your photo needs
more space ahead of them than behind them.
||Provide a sense of scale. For most photos, a familiar object such as a
person or bike provides a "handle" by which the viewer can
understand the picture. For example, you wouldn't know this is a "little
dog" if she were all alone in the photo. Here Dominic provides a
"sense of scale" relative to Jackie and the spruce trunk.
| People add interest. Although the trail
up Cottonwood Creek on the Three Forks Loop is a very nice ride, the
"mountain vistas" are not awesome (by Utah standards). I wanted
to show what the canyon looked like, but from every angle I could shoot,
it was a Yawner. So I aimed the camera in Matt's direction while he was
waiting for me to finish fumbling with the camera. Now the photo has some
visual interest, and I've shown what the canyon looks like.
Look for the unusual. Odd shadows and
highlights can be used to make the picture more interesting. Usually you shoot
across or away from the sun; but sometimes the best photo will be shooting
straight towards it. Look for unusual poses or camera angles. The shock
of recognition -- when seeing a common subject in an unusual way -- can make your pictures
more powerful. Experiment.
Please go on to the
All photos and text on this website are
copyrighted works of Bruce Argyle.
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