Photo Technical

Lines, textures, space and color mix to make the best photographs – A63

Welcome aboard photo enthusiast. On the last go around tips to improve your photographs through better composition was on the agenda.  I had ended that article suggesting to try and always include something in the foreground to add depth to your composition, and when including objects to have odd numbers, such as 3, 5, 7 sailboats in a photograph.

These are not steadfast rules, but they generally make for more interesting images. We now continue on with the subject of composition, as I have more suggestions for you to consider when composing your shot.

There are a variety of elements from art we can use in our photographs to achieve desirable compositionally superior results.  The use of lines is the most basic. They can direct the viewer and define space or shapes, and even evoke emotional responses in more abstract visualizations.  The lines formed by triangulation of three elements in a photograph can carry a viewer around an image.

Enough lines in some sequence may give the impression of texture.  This is another effective compositional element.  How does what is photographed appear to feel.  A steel cleat will reflect as something hard and possibly cool; the folds of a blanket will appear soft and give a feeling of warmth.  Clouds provide a texture that I always hope to include in landscapes, and are an even more welcome addition to my seascapes.  With enhancing texture keep in mind the importance of the direction of light. We professional often use early morning or late afternoon light for the very reason that such intense side lighting adds to texturing…

Shapes are geometrical two dimensional elements that we photograph.  If they are angular they can project a more high tech or graphic vision and they can be more disturbing to the eye.  Curves will tend to be more from nature, giving a feeling of the organic or sensual responses, and can feel more relaxing.

The shapes of objects in your photographs occupy positive space.  Placement of objects in space will give a photograph its sense of depth.  I mentioned earlier to always try having something in the foreground when taking a land, sea, or cityscape…this adds depth, and this means drama I the visual experience. At the same time, do not overlook negative or empty space, as it can work power to the overall composition.

When talking about depth considerations for depth of field are important.  You will remember from articles I’ve written about more technical aspects that higher, smaller f-stop, such as f/8, f/11 and especially f/16 will allow for greater depth of field (as opposed to f/5.6, f/4, or f/2.8).  Most lenses on SLR cameras, unfortunately not on pocket cameras, will have a depth of field button, so you can preview the depth of field given by a specific f/stop.

One last terrific tip I can pass on to you is about where to focus for the best depth of field, but it requires manual focus to do.  This is a question I often ask to ascertain the skill level of a photographer for one of my workshops…  If you are facing five trees, equal distance one behind the other, which tree is best to focus on to get them all in focus?  E-mail me the answer or otherwise I’ll e-mail the answer back to you.

With the subject of depth of field I could also go into hyper-focal distance, but the new digital camera systems have made this still valid approach to focusing obsolete, that is to say the setting scales are no longer even available on current equipment, so there’s not much sense in exploring it further.

Using tones can also help define your composition.  Tones would be shades of grey from white to black that make up an image, along the lines of the Zone System developed by Ansel Adams.  Even though I am using tones from white to black, what I am talking about applies as well to color photographs.  Highlights and shadows that are vital to visual dimensions are tones.  Tones will direct the eyes.  The visual pull of a dark tone carries more weight than a light tone.  They may also convey emotions.

Colors we know for sure convey emotion and harmony.  Blue conveys the feeling of being calm and cool, red can give the opposite sensations of heat, passion and stimulates the appetite, white expresses purity, green is soothing and gives feeling of tranquility, and so forth.  Color can articulate space and provide modeling for fashions.  Colors can represent symbols, for instance, a photograph of the scarlet letter or the golden religious aura project color symbolism.  They can also follow cultural preferences with the jade green and Chinese red or the strong reds, yellows and oranges found south of the US border.

A photographer, an especially talented one will know how to mix his/her lines, textures, shapes, spaces, tones, colors into their visual images.  Oh, and don’t forget to keep your horizon line straight. These suggestions should get you on your way to better compositions, so I’ll take leave to go ashore.