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Great photography moves, intrigues, informs, and sometimes challenges the viewer. We as artists have a message we want to communicate. It may be as simple as the emotional grandeur of the Grand Canyon or as complicated as the impact of culture on the environment. But no matter what kind of photography you enjoy, there are elements of design that are common to all: composition, movement, texture, depth of field, light, and color, all weave through the tapestry of a fine photograph.
How you use these in your photographs is your eye. So let's start with composition. Composition is simply the art of interpreting a three-dimensional scene and creating a two-dimensional design, and there are many rules that can help take your photography from snapshots to the next level. The granddaddy of them all is the Rule of Thirds. This is the first rule taught in art classes. In fact, I learned it way back in Mr. John Schlechter's eighth grade art class in Ottumwa, Iowa.
Divide the frame into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. Check out where the lines intersect. One of these interactions is a great place to put something of interest. Let me show you what I mean. I took lots of photographs of this harbor in Vietnam. They are all pretty but not nearly as interesting as this one of the boy pulling anchor. Now let's put the grid over that photo and see how I positioned him where the lines intersected? Here's another one taken in Vietnam about an hour later.
The fisherman is placed on the intersection, and the boat and the horizon are right on the horizontal lines. After all these years, I didn't even think about composing when I was shooting this photograph. Until I put the grid on this shot, I didn't even realize how well I had captured the rule of thirds. A few years ago, I spent some time photographing a family at their subsistence fishing camp on the Yukon River in Alaska. I took this shot as their boy ran down to the river.
You can see how the rule of thirds works in this photograph. But you know what? There are times I like to break the rule of thirds, and this photograph allows for a number of different crops. This would be a good one for a two-page spread in the magazine, and this one would be great for a magazine cover because there is room at the top for the masthead and room on the side for the story teasers. And this extreme crop pulls your eye right to the child while still giving information about the place.
These crops are very popular with my portrait clients. So learn how and when to compose using the rule of thirds, but don't be afraid of being a rule breaker too.
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