Part 2: Elements of Design
Identifying the graphic elements in a photograph involves dissecting the image to establish the importance of the role they play. This part of the Course covers points, lines and shapes that mark out and enclose the two dimensional image.
A single point draws the eye and focuses attention. If a subject is to qualify as a point it has to be small in the frame, and contrast in some way with its surroundings (p.51 Workbook). My query is, “how small is small?”. Is it less than a quarter, or less than a half? I will keep this in mind when doing the exercises.
I noted several examples of points to get me thinking around the topic:-
Horse in a field One tree Steeple against the sky
Plane in the sky Moon in sky constellation of stars(?)
Vase on table birdbath on lawn bright scarf/tie on sweater
Shadow/silhouette boat on sea buoy
Lamp-post on pavement lighthouse person/object on the horizon
Flag statue duck/swan on water
Kite in sky balloon in sky
Exercise 1 : Positioning a point
Three photographs in which there is a single point, placed in a different part of the frame, in each example. Justify your reasons for each placement.
No. 1 – In the middle
The placement in the centre emphasizes the boat being alone in the middle of an expanse of water.
No. 2 – a little off-centre
I chose three photographs here because I was unsure.
I’m not sure this can classify as a single point because Dora is there as well (with nose down, snuffling) However, Digby is looking directly at the camera and his paler colour makes him stand out as a focus of attention. This is what I wanted to capture. He is off centre, although the balance is maintained by Dora. I made a black and white copy to see if that shows him as the point of focus.
2b (black and white)
To me Digby does look like the single point.
The boat here is just off-centre/above the middle line and I think the placement here emphasises its smallness against the background mountains.
Although the front of the plane is in the centre, its plume extends to the side of the frame and, to me, this makes it an off-centre point.
3 – close to the edge
I was driving when I saw this so stopped and took the shot through the windscreen. The dark lamp stood out against the blue sky. I focused to capture just the top of the lamp outlined against the sky and vapour trails.
I’ve realised that I rarely photograph a single point. I usually frame a single person or object either in relation to other points or compose so that they are larger in the frame than would qualify for a point – for example
I went a walk with the dogs this afternoon and thought I’d try again with a single point of-centre. It isn’t easy with Dora and Digby because they rarely stay still unless they are either rooting around with nose to the ground or asleep! Here is Digby again and I converted to black and white to check whether he constitutes a point.
29th March 2011
Project: Cropping and extending
Exercise 9 : Cropping
Select three photographs, each of a different subject; crop them and describe the logic behind your choice.
This is the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence. I took this photograph some time ago using a compact camera.
I quite liked the photograph but decided that the bridge could be shown to more advantage if it was brought more to the fore, with less sky and river. I liked the silvery effect on the river though so wanted to retain some of it. Here is my plan of the crop:
This the cropped version:-
It doesn’t look too different but I do think that the bridge now has more focus and prominence. I have also still retained the reflections of the buildings in the river.
I took this photograph in Split, Croatia last year.
What happened was that I wanted to take a photograph of the dog and its owner. However, just as I was composing the tablecloth seller suddenly appeared in front of me. I half turned and this was the result. In some respects it is quite a whimsical image I think. It could be cropped in a variety of ways. This is the cropping outline:-
I cropped it into two images. I was going to do another crop just of the dog but decided that might degrade the photograph too much.
I think it has cropped quite well given the circumstances. The lady is a bit too far over the left for my liking but I couldn’t do anything about that. I lightened the area around the dog slightly to draw the eye. He’s quite perky looking isn’t he?
The crop has made the tablecloth seller more prominent. I’m thinking she is now too dominant in the image somehow, although she is balanced to some extent by the dog and the cushions.
I was in a local churchyard just after Armistice Day last year. I thought the red rose was a very poignant touch and wondered who had put it there. The way the memorial is placed gave it a busy road background so I bent down to take the photograph. I actually felt it was disrespectful somehow to cut off all the names on the memorial and made an inner apology to any relatives there might be. I even wondered if I’d cut off the name of the person for whom the rose was left.
I was discussing the photograph afterwards with my husband, whilst I was editing it, and he said he thought I should crop off even more to highlight the poignancy of the rose. I resisted at the time because I didn’t want to cut even more names away. However, I decided I would try it now for the purposes of the exercise. Here is the cropping outline:-
and here is the final version:-
I’m not sure about this one. I think it works less well than the other two crops. I was just thinking that the fact that there are so few names could make it seem as if it was a grave rather than a memorial (although, of course, there are still several different names). Yes – thinking about it again I think my original version was better because it makes it more obvious that this is a memorial.
It’s obviously much better if one composes a photograph properly in the first place having thought carefully about intention. However, this isn’t always possible, e.g. the lady with the tablecloth. In that case I’ve enjoyed making the two images from one.
24th March 2011
In general, I’ve been feeling over-saturated with ideas, information and (non)activity recently. I know why – it’s because there are so many possible figures of interest emerging that I’m like a butterfly flitting from one to the other and never settling. I’ve also been waiting for feedback on Assignment 1 so that has contributed to some extent because I haven’t felt able to move on. My tutor emailed me feedback yesterday so I feel a little clearer now. It was mainly positive with also some suggestions for alternative images and further reading/exploration. I’ll write in more detail on a separate post when I have absorbed it all.
I thought that now would be a good time to survey the ground and look back for a while at how I’m doing, or at least how I think I’m doing. Read the rest of this entry »
Exercise 8 : Vertical and horizontal frames
Photograph the same scene twice – once in horizontal and once in vertical format – and do this for 20 scenes. The exercise brief suggests a fairly compact location and I chose to visit Wisley Gardens, Surrey, which is one of the Royal Horticultural Society gardens. I visited there for some of the earlier exercises.
Michael Freeman reminds us that the shape of the viewfinder frame and LCD screen, “has a huge influence on the form that the image takes”, (p. 12 M. Freeman, 2007). Digital SLRs are made to be used for horizontal pictures, therefore, turning them on their side is not as comfortable. Additionally, a horizontal frame approximates our natural view of the world. The exercise brief actually asks us to photograph each scene in vertical format first and then, after processing these images to return and photograph the same scene in horizontal format. I have to confess that I took all the photographs at the same time, and, on the whole use horizontal format first. In my own defence, I actually do, nowadays, pause to decide whether to use horizontal or vertical format so a fair proportion of my photographs are vertical. On this occasion, though, I think that knowing that I would be using both formats, I unconsciously used horizontal format first because it is a more natural way to hold the camera.
I followed an instruction to take each set of photographs from the same focal length. I think this was my internal instruction because I now don’t see that written anywhere in the brief. I certainly used different focal lengths throughout, but there are only two sets where I actually changed the focal length between shots and I will note this where it applies.
I composed the vertical shot here to accentuate the height of the roof and the tree.
The vertical format accentuates the height of the ‘steeple’ in comparison with the building next door.
Here, I used a focal length of 70mm standing 5.5m away for the arch itself, but a focal length of 15mm from 2.3m away to capture the whole of the doorway.
I chose to capture the lamp post against the sky for the horizontal frame, but the vertical frame gives another impression of height when the lamp post is contrasted with the treetop.
Again, the vertical format gives more impression of the height of the tree.
I was taken by the more sinister aspect of Pan when viewed close-up and crouching down in front of him. The horizontal frame was taken at 21mm and I was 0.7m away. I stepped back for the vertical shot (3.4m away) and used a focal length of 32mm, which allowed for the height of the statue. I put these two on Flickr and comments were made about the difference between the shots. I have done some more work on the close-up as wall could be seen behind Pan’s left hand. A suggestion was made that I could crop this out but,instead I cloned in leaves instead of wall and allowed Pan some space to play his pipes!
Vertical format here gives more space to show the height of the steps, whereas the horizontal format emphasises the steps in the foreground.
I unconsciously chose vertical format first here to give more impression of height. My sense of tidiness actually whispered that I should change the photographs around on the page but I left it to show how I had, on the whole, naturally used a horizontal frame.
Horizontal format works better here I think because it shows more of the width of the greenhouse.
Horizontal format allowed me to show more of the context within which the gardener works.
Horizontal format shows more greenery whereas vertical brings in more of the windows at the back (highlights blown because of the grey light outside. Normally I would crop but I left this in to keep the vertical format. In fact, normally I would frame a shot like this to exclude the light outside if I thought it would be a problem.
This is one where I unconsciously chose vertical format first because it better suits the waterfall.
It did seem quite time-consuming and cumbersome to choose and then process 40 photographs just for an exercise. However, it has really shown me how I do have a tendency to naturally frame shots in horizontal format. It’s also been interesting for me to see the different effects.
17th March 2011
Project: Dividing the frame
Exercise 7: Positioning the horizon
This is Newlands Corner, which is part of the North Downs in Surrey. There is a steep slope here (well at least for Surrey) which gives a good view of the meeting between horizon and sky. I took the following before Christmas last year (2010) on a day that had a cold and foggy beginning. The fog was just beginning to clear.
I decided to visit Newlands Corner again for the current exercise that requires 6 images where the horizon line is arranged in different positions in the frame. The following photographs were taken at the end of January this year (2011) on a bright day. I used a 76mm lens at f11 for all 6. It’s taken me quite a while to get to writing this up because I became engrossed in producing the images for Assignment 1.
I was attracted towards this view initially because of the people sitting on a bench at the top of the slope. There is just enough room here between horizon and sky to allow for the people. A lot of dry grass in the foreground but it is broken up slightly by the shadow from the tree. The slant of the slope also looks quite steep (which it is).
Moving the horizon down makes the slope look less steep now. To me it looks less interesting than no.1 where I liked the effect of the people perched on top of the horizon. I’ve measured it with a ruler and the horizon meets the sky at the 2/3rd point.
This seems quite flat to me now and not interesting at all. The line of the grass is at the halfway point.
There is an introduction of more interest from now being able to see the branches of the tree which form a pattern against the blue of the sky. The line of the grass has now moved down to the 1/3rd point.
For me, the tree and the blue sky are now becoming more dominant as a point of interest.
All sky and tree now. This could have been quite pleasing if there had been more branches to contrast with the sky.
I think when I was just beginning to use a camera I would have produced an image similar to No. 3 because I remember I always wanted to centre everything in an image. Now it seems the least interesting for this particular scene. I have to confess as well that I don’t think I normally take the horizon into consideration. I look at a scene decide I like it and then compose the image. I did that with the view I began with – captured at the end of last year and also with the following when the fog had almost dispersed.
14th March 2011
Exercise 6: Balance
“Balance is the resolution of tension, opposing forces that are matched
to provide equilibrium and a sense of harmony”
M. Freeman, 2007, p. 40
This links with the gestalt Law of Simplicity – the mind prefers symmetry and balance. However, Freeman makes the point that providing equilibrium isn’t necessarily the job of art or photography (p. 41). The challenge is to show how much tension or harmony to create. Another comment he makes is that symmetry is not necessarily satisfying, is not particularly common in views that a photographer is likely to come across and, therefore, it can be appealing if used occasionally (and I would add – creatively).
Another aspect to consider is that symmetry has to be absolutely precise otherwise the balance of the photograph is upset. On the other hand, an unbalanced composition creates visual tension and is more dynamic and, therefore, can be more interesting. It makes the eye and brain work harder. The challenge is to provide just enough tension and, to me as a viewer, that depends whether I find the subject interesting or perhaps unusual enough to work at it. Oddly enough, and I don’t really know why, as I’m writing this I keep thinking of how we arrange objects on windowsills or tables. My husband and I have occasional skirmishes where I make one arrangement, which he then changes slightly to another. We also disagree at times on how a photograph should be cropped if that seems necessary. This is where individual process comes in.
At first, when contemplating this exercise, I was tempted to look for photographs which would meet the balance of two unequal objects; maximum symmetry or symmetry about one axis. I decided not to do this but to choose photographs where I hadn’t thought they were ‘good enough’ to put on Flickr for whatever reason. I thought there would be more learning in this for me, at the risk of feeling even more de-skilled. I drew the lines on the photographs and then scanned them in which has changed the colour somewhat.
To me this is a grouping of unequal objects where they are balanced because the larger set on the right is closer to the centre and the smaller set is nearer the edge of the frame on the left. As a photograph it would have worked much better if the post had not been there because it intrudes into the eye and, now I see, looks as it it’s getting in the way of the boat in the foreground.
Lines are radiating here (but to slightly left of centre) and I see triangles. There is also a contrast between tones – the darker tones of the rocks and paving; green grass, green foliage on trees and pale roof, and then slight colour in the people on the top left, with lighter foliage. I’d be interested to see what effect moving the axis to the centre would create – less heavy rock but I don’t know what is on the left. I’m going back there next week and will try to remember to have a look and take a different photograph.
I see a division into unequal thirds. The swans and ducks take up a larger portion of the image. The prow of the boat intrudes rather than balances.
There are triangles here radiating from the top of the arch. The wings; head; breastplate, and knees of the bird woman also form triangles. The breasts of the other two statues and the orb between them balance these. However, the birdwoman is the dominant shape because her wings give more width, as do her pigtails.
This photograph is pleasing to my eyes, as was the sculpture which is over the doors of one of the large buildings in the City. I think it’s to do with the androgynous aspect of the birdwoman, (who looks more like a squaw bird), with a plump-lipped pout and the flattened cones on her breastplate simulating breasts, against bony knees (and the orb between her legs?), which look masculine. Contrasting with this are the two classical, and definitely female sculptures on either side. When I think of it that way it’s like an almost asymmetrical balance between male and female. I wish I could remember now what the building was so that I can find out more about the sculpture. *
There are more elements in this photograph, which make it more complicated. I think the gangway and the cruiser are more dominant and extend beyond the centre of the frame , backed by the distant form of the Houses of Parliament. They are balanced by the landing stage with the height of the millennium wheel in the distance.
Here there are two blocks of unequal objects. The trees on the right, with spreading branches, take up most (around two-thirds) of the frame. Their dominance is softened by the light shrubs in the right foreground; the more feathery aspect of the branches of the lower tree, and also the downwards slope of the treetops.
I then looked at the photographs on page 38 of the Workbook. To my eyes, in ‘On Sussex Downs’, Frederick Evans has achieved balance through the tones between the sky and the path which breaks up the heaviness of the land mass. In ‘Farmyard, Thuman, Colorado, 1969’, Robert Adams has composed the photograph so that the lines of the telegraph pole lead the eye both down and along. The telegraph pole provides a point just left of centre which links the tree and outbuilding together. The eye can wander between all the elements without tension – at least mine can – and it looks restful. Cecil Beaton’s photograph of ‘Quintin Hogg, QC’ (and what a character he was!) is simple in composition and achieves balance between the two unequal elements of man at desk and bowler. The door handles and catch also provide a balancing aspect. I have a sense that if they weren’t there this photograph would be less visually pleasing.
There are many different aspects of composition, which contribute towards balance or asymmetry. Sometimes I can look at a photograph and know it isn’t quite right somehow and completing this exercise has helped me to distinguish some of the reasons why.
4th March 2011
* ps – Re Image 4 and the sculptures. Corinna of Hairy Goat Ltd informed me that the sculpture is in Lombard Street and the building used to house an insurance company. The statues represent the risks from fire and sea so that the statues on each side actually hold symbols such as a flaming torch and a caduceus- common symbols on buildings housing insurance companies. Corinna described the middle statue as a harpy (winged woman). This helped me to do a bit more searching. It’s at 2, Lombard Street which used to be the Royal Insurance Building and the sculptor was Francis W. Doyle-Jones. The statue in the middle has also been described as a semi sphinx, with wings, representing the uncertainty of the future. I lean more towards ‘harpy’ because they were said to appear out of nowhere and grasp you with their talons.
I know this is nothing really to do with the exercise but It gives me a sense of completion – the Gestalt law of Closure.