This blog discussion only addresses one aspect of composition, namely graphic composition. There are many other elements to composition -- color, and shape to name a couple. I will come back to these in a later blog posts.
Graphic composition, like music, is recognized as pleasing and meaningful to the human mind by the harmony -- or dis-harmony -- of its elements. Over thousands of years we have contrived conventions for dealing with the division of graphic space. The most basic of these is the grid, and the most basic grid is a single rectangular space bordered on four sides. We expand the grid by sub-dividing the space into evenly separated elements.
One of the oldest rules of graphic composition is the rule of thirds. It is when a rectangular space is evenly divided by two horizontal and two vertical lines, and is derived from the popular format of 35mm film, which is 24x36mm, or 2:3.
|The 35mm frame has a 2:3 proportion. The illustration above shows it divided evenly into a grid of three parts horizontally and vertically.|
|The grid pattern above is overlaid on the photo below.|
Of course "naturally pleasing" may not be the intended message the photographer is seeking to present, in which case objects and lines of composition may be intentionally placed outside the grid positions to create a feeling of discord in the viewer. In either case, working with the grid or against it, the placement relative to the intuitive grid relays a message to the viewer.
The rule of thirds grid suggests the use of an asymmetrical composition, but compositions can be symmetrical also. For these we need to work with more symmetrical grids.
|The grid drawn above, a Golden Section, is based upon a proportion of 8:5, a visual harmony that has been recognized for many years. The Greeks applied this divine ratio to the rectangular structure of temples, such as the Parthenon.|
|This very obvious placement on the lowest part of the grid allows the stormy sky to dominate the image, which in turn delivers a message about the vastness of the scene.|
|This is a situation where purposeful symmetrical placement of the object is meant to illustrate the inherent beauty of symmetry in nature.|
Although I presented two of the more popular grids in graphic composition, they are not the only ones available. For most purposes, simply subdividing the area proportionately is and creating an incremented grid relative to the proportions is sufficient. Most of the grids used below follow that principle.
Below are some uses of grid based compositions:
I always worked with a grid screen in my cameras. Today it is even easier, since most modern cameras come with built-in grid lines that can be lit up and superimposed over the viewfinder frame.
|I published this image on my blog just a few days ago and am including it here to demonstrate that a grid layout can work even with a portrait.|
The human mind seeks patterns in a graphic display, and is constantly in search of order and meaning in this visual realm. Graphic artists know this and utilize grids as roadmaps that guide the viewer through the image and elicit a response to the visual stimuli created by the harmony or dis-harmony of alignment with this grid. That is the essence of graphic composition and one of the many tools photographers have at their disposal in creating images.
A subject plopped without thought in the middle of a picture is a blob devoid of meaning. The same subject, thoughtfully scaled, and place in relation to other objects within the frame and relative to the frame itself so it is infused with meaning is graphic composition.