Understanding the psychology behind composition and how people read an image is vital if you are looking to create striking, powerful images.
The rule of thirds is a good place to start as it has some merit but only if the use thereof supports the narrative in your image and what you are wanting to show the reader or your image. Using it just for the sake of complying is not only boring but can lead to stale images that lack creativity. Breaking the rule of thirds just for the sake of breaking it is basically anarchy and won’t necessarily lead to better images.
If we look past all the talk of composition, rules and what the professionals think I believe a common sense approach to composition will always win. People don’t look at your images to see how well you conformed to the rules they look at, and appreciate, your images because it makes them feel something.
Using this common sense approach take a look at this image.
By placing the herd of elephants in the middle of the frame I am confusing the reader of my image.
Don’t think of it in terms of rules or composition but rather look at the image and ‘feel’ how your eyes move through the frame. Don’t you feel like your eyes wander a bit? Isn’t there too much negative space split between the top and bottom of the frame?
Sure, an argument could be made that this image make me feel like the elephants are in a vast expanse and almost lost but I think the narrative can be stronger by shifting the subjects either to the top or bottom of the frame. From experience and questions that I’ve received on safaris most people will drop the subjects down to bottom in order to show more sky.
Same elephants. Same scene. Very different visual.
In this image my reader will get the feeling of massive skies and how small the world’s largest animals is dwarfed by the scale of the place. Nothing wrong and often a great way to compose your images especially if you have dramatic clouds to create depth and interest in the image.
My concern is that most people will then stop there or, even worse, shoot 15 of exactly the same images.
By moving the subjects to the top of the frame you will not only create more depth in your images – one of the most difficult things to do in photography – but you will also end up with a more diverse portfolio of images.
The look and feel of this image is very different to the previous one.
By placing the subjects at the top of the frame it makes the reader of my image notice the distance to the subject, more than the sky, and that they are closer to eye level to the elephants.
To me this is the best of the three images and the one that both looks and feels the best. Don’t get so stuck on the rules that you forget to consider what a certain composition feels like and how the reader of your image will react to it.
Until next time.
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