A little used compositional element most photographers forget

• Gravity •

• Gravity •
The force of gravity is a constant in our lives. Apples fall. It’s a fact of life. We should be accounting for this in our compositions.

We all know it is there…

But we cannot see it, smell it or touch it. Gravity is a hidden element in everything we do. Yet it affects the state of our photographic work. It pays to have the idea of gravity as a compositional element in mind.

Defying gravity

Gravity is such an important component in our lives that we expect it to be there, but forget it when we compose our shots. When we do capture it, there are several compositional conditions we can use to show it…

When we look at objects in the world around us the natural order of balance is to see objects with firm, wide bases sitting on the ground. We are used to things being heavier at the bottom and getting lighter as they go up. Buildings, trees, mountains… I could go on. This natural order is expected. Compositionally we can use this to an advantage. If you can find things that apparently mock or defy this natural order you will have peoples attention. Here are two ways to do it…

Levitation – float things in the air that would normally be fixed to the ground. There are thousands of pictures about the subject. Gravity defying antics have been of interest to photographers for over a century. Here is a selection of levitation pictures from a Google search…

• Levitation • Levitation on Google

• Levitation •
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Levitation on GoogleExternal link - opens new tab/page

Another way to defy gravity is inversion. As most gravitationally stable things have a wide heavy base, finding things that do not creates something remarkable. Bridges are often attractive to the eye. They almost seem to defy gravity. They perch on fine stanchions or are suspended across ridiculous gaps. They have the grace of the light touch, but we know they are beyond our strength to lift them. Bridges are the subject of countless images because of this apparent power over gravity.

Natural objects which defy gravity are especially interesting. Piles of pebbles seem to have an online life of their own. There are countless pictures of them over the Internet. I am not sure why. But again, the natural grace of something that goes up when everything else is trending down has a sort of captivation quality that pulls in the viewers eye.

Pebble Stacks On Google

• Pebble Stacks On Google •
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• Pebble Stacks On Google • External link - opens new tab/page

Formal components

The normal gravitational forces at work also affect us. When we see implied gravitational force we feel it imposing on us. I am thinking of overhanging rocks; buildings built top heavy and crashed vehicles precariously overhanging the cliff. In these circumstances the composition of precariousness becomes compelling in itself. The gravity defying element transfixes us. The ominous nature of the fall terrifies us.

Landscapes that capitalise on this sort of ominous structure have a fascination too. The sheer weight of rock in Ansel Adams Yosemite National Park pictures is an example. The gravity defying feeling as well as the awesomeness of of the potential for collapse in the massive landscapes is a very compelling subject. It is a subject in which Adams excels. Here are some of his pictures on Google  External link - opens new tab/page.

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Weight

Mountain ranges are perhaps the ultimate expression of gravity. However, closer to home we have lots of instances where gravity is important in our pictures.

A room with heavy curtain drapes inspires a sense of warmth and protection. Solid and comforting furniture at ground level adds to the sense of a well grounded and safe environment.

The opposite is true when heaviness is aloft. Heavy roof ornaments (large beams, weapons on the walls, high and heavy light fixtures) add to a sense of the ominous. The Gothic castles and manor houses which we see so frequently in horror films are full of this top heaviness. It is often badly lit up there so the sense of gloom and impending threat of doom falling on your head is heavy on you.

Using gravity

While we are all aware of gravity it is not always something we use in our pictures. However, gravity does have a strong impact on our mood. When see gravity being defied we are uplifted. When we see impending doom and decent from above it depresses and subdues us. Both these emotions are over-ridden for the wonder and awe of the massive natural environment or the incredible engineering feats that appear to defy gravity like bridges.

Look out for things that work with gravity in your compositions and you will find things that are remarkable to photograph.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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2 responses to “A little used compositional element most photographers forget

  1. Cathy Donohoue

    Very interesting, Damon. I never thought of it quite that way before.
    Cathy Donohoue

    • Damon (Editor)

      I am glad to have stimulated some thought. Thinking about your scene is the first most important thing when you are going to take a picture. Thanks for commenting.
      Damon