Tag Archives: Rule of thirds

Five simple composition tips for great snow images

Snow in the deep South - Vestavia Hills

Snow in the deep South – Vestavia Hills
Loosing detail in the whites is a big problem in snow photography. Lack of contrast is the main cause. Look for subjects that have contrasts or ensure you have an exposure that pulls all the detail out of the whites.
Snow in the deep South – Vestavia Hills – IMG_5382 by Bahman Farzad, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Snow images requre special compositions.

As you can see from the photo above, snow photography can present special problems. In the case of this photograph the lack of contrast could have spoilt the image. Loosing detail in the whites is a big problem in the snow.

In the photograph (above) the author has made a good exposure and the whites are well defined and detail is not lost even with a white building in the scene. However, be careful with your snow compositions. You can lose a lot of detail and normal compositional features because of the way the snow obscures many of the normal features in the landscape that we use to draw the eye.

# Tip one: Contrasts – Make sure you are able to see the details. Too much white and the detail is lost. Too little white and the snow looks grey. Use exposure compensation or full manual mode to make sure you have the right whiteness without losing the detail. See: Correct snow scenes using exposure compensation. (Photo above).

# Tip Two: New compositional and curvey lines – Find a scene where strong lines are well defined. Snow often covers major lines in the scene. Look for new lines. Snow is great for creating curvy lines. As it settles on a fence or wall top, the snow creates great shapes presenting different lines to the ones you normally see. Search out new types of snow defined lines and tracks to help define your composition. “Fencing” By tgroeger_canada  External link - opens new tab/page.

# Tip three: – When you have a strong line make the most of it. Try to make the scene simple so it stands out without confusing things with other features. Snow is a notoriously soft environment to compose a shot within so try to work with soft compositions. Gentle curves and easy lines are inviting to the eye and promote a sense of peace and well-being.

“Snow”
Click image to view large
“Snow” by Kathy~, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

# Tip four: – Rule of thirds Of course the general principles of composition apply in snow. The rule of thirds and the rule of odds are both strong contenders to helping to improve your snow shots. Just because everything is lost under the snow don’t lose sight of these old compositional tools.

# Tip five: Tonal variations – With snow being so white it is easy to make the picture too bland. In fact the light you shoot in has a big effect on snow. There is nothing more exciting than a snow scene in a golden sunset. Sunset and Snow External link - opens new tab/page. Snow is especially good at reflecting tonal changes in light. One way to bring those out is to look for changes in light locally. A road disappearing into the trees, or snowy mountainsides with different angles to the light both cause exciting variations in the colour and tone of the snow.

Snowy morning, golden light

Snowy morning, golden light
Click image to view large
Snowy morning, golden light by Mike Thomas, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Finally, try to make your composition as different as possible. Don’t just do landscapes. Snow changes the shapes of everything. So try to find things that are barely recognisable under snow because the snow has created unusual or unexpected shapes. Then you will have the viewer guessing… that will draw them into the picture.

Have fun! Snow photography is not something we can all do daily so make the most of the great opportunities.

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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’.

Don’t get lucky, get great photographs

Random or 'splatter' tactics when shooting are not going to make you lucky.

Random or ‘splatter’ tactics when shooting are not going to make you lucky.

Ever taken a few more shots, just for luck?

I think we all have if we are honest. We know that approach is really about random shooting and not about getting good shots. Here are some ways to help you get over blasting off shots just for luck.

The tell-tail signs

You always come back from a shoot with hundreds of shots. A high percentage of them are throw-aways. It’s difficult to know what to point your camera at when shooting. Your shots appear to be random. It is difficult to know what settings to use… feel uncertain while out shooting. You suffer photographic stress. Simple, you need to get organised about your shoots.

Here’s a plan…

To move forward, you need work on a plan to get past the randomness and work toward taking consistent shots.

Increase your confidence: Low hit-rates are pretty demoralising. You need to find ways to increase the successes. Go back to basics. BUT, you need to do it in a way that will help you move on. When in a new situation set your camera to auto-settings. Take a few test shots. Note what settings your camera uses. Once you have the measure of things, swap back to the settings that give you creative control. You will be more confident – you know what settings to return to if your settings don’t work out on a shot.

Learn about light: Light is a very fickle entity. Just when you want great light it’s not there. Other times it’s there but you are not sure how to use it to best effect. Well, here are two pieces of advice. First, shoot late or early – long shadows help define your subject and with better colours in the light. Second, learn the difference between hard light and soft light. Hard, harsh light will tend to be less forgiving and less aesthetically pleasing. Once you know these things, you are on the path to improvement. Check over our other Light and Lighting resources on light to continue your improvement.

Learn about settings on your camera and exposure: The most important ideas in photography rest on getting a good exposure. Start with simple shots, simple light. Learn the settings on your camera, in particular about ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed. Together these form a golden triangle for photographers. Read your manual so you know how to control them. Then read up on exposure. Here are a range of links to get you started on exposure…
Definition: Exposure
Definition: Aperture
Definition: f number
Definition: ISO
Definition: Shutter Speed

Portraiture: Friends or family expect you to do it right and you are under pressure. To make the situation more controlled ask a supportive member of your family, or a good friend, to try out a few poses. There are quite a few posing guides in books. Here are a list of books on Amazon that I have found particularly useful to get you started…

Start simple and work on a set of poses to commit to memory. Memorise about five or six poses for a male and the same for a female. These will let you get a session going. After that you rely on your intuition while working with your subject – work out what will suit them. Watchwords here are: Keep it simple; keep it well lit. To get under way read this article to get you thinking about portraiture… Simple positions for classic portrait work.

Finger off the trigger: I know it is easy to punch away at that button and hope something comes out. Take it from me you need to do just the opposite. Stop. Consider. Compose. Frame. Fire. Make sure you get into the habit of thinking each shot through before you push the button. Visualise your shots so you have a good idea for your picture before you even raise the camera to your eye. Pre-visualisation in most pursuits is how you can focus your energy and skill. It is no different in photography. Try improving your stance too. Most people improve their shots a huge amount if they take time to get the stance right. I have a system I teach my students. Read about it in: Simple tips for a good stance.

Composition: There are simple things you can do to improve immediately. Here are three posts on the fundamentals:

  1. Rule of Thirds
  2. Golden Hour; Magic Hour;
  3. Don’t Stick the Horizon Line in the Middle!

Follow up with more composition reading: Composition – resource pages on Photokonnexion.

Planning your shoot and being productive: It is best to do a bit of planning. Get some ideas going before you start shooting. Read about planning a shoot without the scatter-gun approach: Shoot Less – Keep More.

Putting it all together…

That is the fundamental plan. To do it you need to work on one bit at a time. Practice the simple principles above, work with the camera, make sure you look at good photographs daily. Oh! And, one further thing… you are not alone. We all went through this stage. With practice you will soon be making great images regularly.

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’.

A great range of simple resources for landscape photography

Early Morning in Richmond Park - Landscapes cover a wide range of different types of photography

• Early Morning in Richmond Park •
Landscapes cover a wide range of different types of photography

Click image to view large.
• Early Morning in Richmond Park • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Landscapes provide us with some of the most enduring images.

Yes, and they perhaps present the greatest challenge too. Get it wrong, the scene looks flat and uninteresting. Get it right, the wow factor hits the viewer.

The principles and concepts behind landscapes

When we talk about landscapes we can actually be talking about a wide range of types of photographs – usually taken in the countryside. Of course that is pretty nebulous. But it is sensible to talk about the sort of principles that apply to the construction of a good landscape photograph and then relate them to the picture you are going to take.

I have compiled a list of links below. If you follow through on all these together you get a great introduction to landscape photography…

  1. The Third Most Important Piece of Kit
  2. Seeing the Quality of Light
  3. Easy introduction to ‘visual elements’ in photographs
  4. Simple ‘Principles’ of photographic composition
  5. Don’t Stick the Horizon Line in the Middle!
  6. Rule of Thirds
  7. Landscape loves – do you know why you are photographing this scene?
  8. Ten great tips for photographing landscapes
  9. The easy way to give depth to landscapes
  10. Simple ideas about perspective in photography

More after this…

Mastering landscapes

Like all photography mastering landscapes takes time and learning. It especially needs time. I have on occasion taken many return trips to one location, and, many hours there each time to get the shot I wanted. On the other hand, sometimes it all just comes together. That is both the joy and fun of landscape photography… you never know what you are going to get out of a shoot until you have seen the shots afterwards.

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer 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 courses ing digital photography.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

10 ways to bring out the point of interest

"Drag bike" Selective colouring is a great way to bring out your point of interest in the shot

“Drag bike” – Selective colouring is a great way to bring out your point of interest.
Click image to view large

Focus the attention of your viewer using these great techniques.

The most important thing about your image is the part that you want your viewer to see. A great image needs to concentrate their attention and hold it in the shot.

Next time you are ready to take a photograph – pause for a second. Think about composing your picture so you direct the viewer at the most important part of your image. The ‘point of interest’, ‘focus of attention’ or a ‘focal point’ is where the viewer finds satisfaction from looking at the image. It makes sense that you use one or two techniques to point the viewers eye right at the reason you are taking the shot.

10 Techniques directing the eye to the point of interest
  • Crop: The cropped shape of the picture is an important way to help the viewers eye find the ‘point of interest’. Letterbox shaped crops help the viewers eye to run across the width of the picture; square crops help direct the reader to the centre of the shot; landscape views are so common that they help the reader be unaware of the crop; Portrait views alert the reader to the vertical things of interest. A crop is a great way to help the readers eye, especially when used with other techniques below.
  • Position: Where you place your point of interest in the shot can affect how prominent it is or how the eye is drawn to it. A good introduction to positioning is to look up the Rule of Thirds. That is a basic rule of composition that gives the eye a dynamic reason to look at the point of interest.
  • Size: A large subject or point of interest is a great way to make people look at it. Big and bold and your viewer will hardly miss it!
  • Focus: The use of depth of field is really effective. The human eye naturally sees what we directly look at in focus. So we tend to concentrate our viewing in the area of sharpness in a picture.
  • Movement blur: Capturing movement creates blur. In my picture above the bike is travelling very fast. To capture it like that I have panned my camera. The background is out of focus. The sharpness and blur create a contrast that draws the eye to the sharpness. Alternatively, you can photograph something moving that you want to become blurred as the focus of attention. Classic movement blur is often created at the fair in the evening. Fast movement with brightly coloured lights wonderfully blurs the merry-go-round in a longer exposure. The strangeness and strong colours draws the eye to the patterns.
  • Colour: Using colour is a great way to draw the eye. Strong primary colours (red, green, blue etc.) are especially good at catching the eye. One bright colour against other lesser colours also directs the eye. Contrasting colours can be a good way of highlighting a particular point of interest too. Colours are best used to make the point of interest stand out from the background.
  • Selective colour: The absence of colour in part of a picture and the selection of one colour or an object in colour is a great contrast in the picture. That difference – greyscale to colour – will strongly make the point of interest stand out. An example is the picture above.
  • Shape: The use of shape is a way to draw the eye too. Again you can use a contrast. One round object in a group of square objects really captures the attention. A strong geometric shape in a picture where there is no other strong, well defined shapes pulls the eye.
  • Pattern: Where there is pattern there is focus. Our eyes are good at picking out patterns. Sudden, clear formation of pattern in a picture where there is no otherwise clear pattern focusses the attention on the pattern. The opposite is true too. Where there is a breakdown in a pattern the eye is drawn to the difference and questions why the change or break in the pattern.
  • Lines: The eye naturally follows lines in a picture. So, you can use lines both as the actual point of interest, and as a way of pointing at the focus of attention. Implied lines can be useful in the same way. A line that strongly points to something else is another way to capture the attention.

It is important too, you are careful not to make the picture too complicated or cluttered. To much to catch the attention will have the eyes whizzing around the picture and not able to settle on your point of interest. Likewise, it is best to use just one or two of the above techniques. Too many and the eye is confused with what direction they should follow. Composing your picture is about subtle messages and directions to help the eye. The last thing you want to do is to confuse or misdirect your viewer.

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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The Eyes Have It… nine ways to emphasize eyes

The eyes are often the most important element in a photograph.

"Bison" - The eyes are often the most important element in a photograph. Make them central to your shot if you can. Your viewer will almost always start there.

The most important element of a photograph

The power in the eyes of a person or an animal draws your viewer into your photograph. The stronger and more prominent you make the eyes the more you will capture the attention of your viewer.

There are many ways you can help emphasize the eyes…

Focus:
Nearly always the eyes should have the most sharpness. If the eyes are sharp then you will be able to get the attention of the viewer. You can of course vary your depth of field and your softness for other parts of the picture, as long as the eyes are sharp.

Thirds:
As with any composition the eyes are a significant element. You can really highlight them well if they are on one of the ‘Rule of Thirds‘ grid points. If it is not easy to fit them to a grid point then try to put them on one of the lines of thirds. Both these positions will make them have a more dynamic position in the picture.

Lines:
Often when composing a picture it is possible to use the eyes to join up with other compositional elements. The eyes have two points which implies a line between them. If you are able to put them on a line with something else in the picture the implied line will draw the eyes of your viewer. That implied line is a powerful way to get your viewer involved.

Line of sight:
A very strong compositional tool is to use the eyes of a subject in the picture to point out something else in the picture. This is done by photographing the subject with their eyes looking toward another significant object in the picture. This correspondence helps the viewer to understand the prominence of both the subjects. Lots of expression on the face of the ‘looker’ helps with this one too. Often this is a great ploy for a ‘different’ photograph at a tourist site. Photograph a tourists eyes drinking in the view and you will provide a great interplay between the tourist spot and the other person. You will be showing not only the human element but also the famous place.

On the diagonal:
The eyes are normally seen evenly placed on the horizontal. As that is how we normally see them they are, well, normal. If you ask your subject to incline their head a little so the eyes are slightly on the diagonal they have a new dynamic… er, not normal! Do it, you will see how effective it can be. Not for every picture, situation or face, but a great ploy in a set of photos. The inclined head is often the image that gets picked out. (See: Nadia by Enigma Photos – below).

Rapport:
Often, when taking a portrait, the eyes look alive and dynamic when they appear to make contact with the photographer. Remember your viewer is looking at you when you take the shot, but they are looking directly at the viewer of you shot too. That has a great impact on the viewer. So if you can build a rapport with your subject the eyes really seek out the viewer and have a greater impact as a result.

Catchlights:
The eyes often look dead and lifeless if there are no ‘catchlights’. That is the photographers term for that little flicker of light that you see in the eye… a reflection from a near light source. The catchlights give life, shape and direction to the eye. In fact portrait photographers are obsessive about getting these little compositional elements right in the eyes because they eyes just die without them. Really study catchlights and find opportunities to put them into your shots. Your photos will come alive.

Emotion:
The eyes often convey great emotion. Just look at the eyes of a winner in a sports competition. Wow! They say it all. Now capture the eyes of the loser. Wham! Real impact. Get those eyes in focus right at the moment of the fully expressed emotion and you will have a winner.

Not there…
Sometimes it is what you can’t see in a picture that provides the impact. Eyes, or at least where they should be, can be very impactful if they are not where you expect them.

Here are a few pictures that really show the impact of eyes. I hope that some of them inspire and inform your own shots. Why not leave a link in the comments so we can see your eye shots too.

Eyes, Dwarka  Green eyed little girl, Dwarka, Gujarat, India.

Eyes, Dwarka Green eyed little girl, Dwarka, Gujarat, India.

On this link you can see a really captivating pair of dogs eyes. Wonderful focus and excellent perspective… Beagle eyes External link - opens new tab/page

Here are a really dynamic pair of childs eyes. Wonderful capture! Behind these hazel eyes… External link - opens new tab/page

The eyes have it! Papu in Pushkar, India

The eyes have it! Papu in Pushkar, India


Eye Contact

Eye Contact


Eyes wide shot

Eyes wide shot


After Feeding

After Feeding


Nadia by Enigma Photos

Nadia by Enigma Photos


Eyes wide open by umar.s, on Flickr

Eyes wide open by umar.s, on Flickr

This link takes you to a photograph that is exciting because of what you cannot see… Look External link - opens new tab/page

I've lost sight of the things that matter by Melissa Turner., on Flickr

I've lost sight of the things that matter by Melissa Turner., on Flickr


Wolf by Netkonnexion On flickr

Wolf by Netkonnexion On flickr

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’.

Rule of Thirds

'The gentle glow before bed'. A composition using the Rule of Thirds.

'The gentle glow before bed'.
A composition using the Rule of Thirds.
Click to view large.

What is the Rule of Thirds?

Just about everyone who starts out in the visual arts learns this ‘rule’. Not that it’s actually a rule – more of a guide really. Photographers are no exception, the “Rule of Thirds” is here to stay as a way to help you improve your pictures. The idea has been around since it was first recorded by John Thomas Smith in 1797. It’s not a precise mathematical formulation. It is a visual guesstimate… a convention of good visual placement. Painters, photographers and in more modern times, graphic artists, recognise that the rule of thirds helps you to appreciate a picture or design if the rule is applied.

How does it work?

As you can see from the candle photograph above the picture is over-laid with an imaginary grid of four lines. Together the grid-lines divide the picture into nine equal parts. I have faded-out the lines where they intersect with the main subject of the picture. This shows how the subject is placed relative to the intersection. It is the intersections that form the most attractively placed points. However, the full length of the lines themselves carry appealing visual qualities when used to place elements of your picture.

In the picture below I have laid the ‘Thirds’ grid over a picture by the famous English Painter, John Constable. He was a keen user of the rule and it can be seen in many of his pictures. The visual experience is enhanced by the use of the Rule.

Windmill on a Hill with Cattle Drovers. By English painter John Constable

Windmill on a Hill with Cattle Drovers. By English painter, John Constable. The picture demonstrates that the old masters recognised the importance of the Rule of Thirds.
Click to see a larger view.

You can see many features of the picture that conform to the ‘Rule’. At the bottom of the picture an adult and a child drive cattle. The first vertical line goes between them. As important elements Constable has placed them on the third. However, follow the line up and you notice the line traces the leading edge of the huge cloud in the sky. The important windmill is placed exactly so that the centre of the sails, the spindle, is placed on the intersection of the thirds (I have faded the intersection for visibility). You will also notice that the same horizontal windmill line cuts across the top of the tree on the left hand side of the picture. This implied line balances the picture nicely in that plane. The lower horizontal line also creates a third. It cuts both the trees at the point where the trunks split. The result is an implied line across the picture, creating a psychological balance.

In the next picture the tin mine chimney is placed on a third. In this picture the line itself is the key to the location of the main subject on the third. There is no significant object that is appropriate for putting on the intersection.

Blue Hills Tin Mine, Cornwall, UK.
The mine chimney is shown on the 'third'. Click to see large.

This composition works because the picture is relatively uncluttered and the single most important structure acts to pull the eye to it. This is why the Rule of Thirds works. Placing the main picture element in the dead centre, the eye would go straight to it. The picture would be weakened because there is no reason to be drawn into the picture once we are visually satisfied with the main object.

We have a natural tendency to find symmetry and look for the important item in the centre. No central main feature and our eyes hunt the picture taking in the whole. Inevitably we are drawn to the thirds when a significant object is there. There is still a pleasing, and yet unbalanced symmetry, on the Thirds. The rule of the Thirds works because the eye is pleased with the symmetry, yet realises a visual tension from the off-centre displacement. We are drawn into the picture because of this dynamic.

How do we use the Rule of Thirds?

In almost any picture the eye or eyes of an animal or human are a very significant point. We are programmed to look to the eyes first. If you want to succeed with the Rule of Thirds consider putting an eye on one of the intersections. A nice sharp eye, especially with a nice catchlight (white reflective sparkle), is always a significant point which draws the viewer into the picture.

In the next picture I tried to find two elements that help the placement. The eye is placed on one of the intersections. The upper wing of this swoop forms a long element along the line of the vertical. The picture is slightly balanced the other side by the fence post behind the left vertical line. It is blurry because the peregrine falcon at the bottom of its swoop is moving at about 200 kph (approx. 120 mph). Obviously, panning to take this shot was too fast to compose for the rule. So in this case the shot is cropped into the Rule of Thirds afterwards. Most image editor applications like Photoshop, Elements, Coral Paint etc. have crops with the rule of thirds grid built in. So it is easy to crop the shot to match the rule.

A peregrine falcon swooping and showing the strong features of the Rule of Thirds.

A peregrine falcon swooping and showing the strong features of the Rule of Thirds. Try to place the eye on one of the intersections. This helps to balance the shot.
Click to see large.

Of course it is better, where you can, to compose in-camera for a shot. This saves on the post-processing. Fill the screen with your composition and use the grid or focus points to line up the elements for the Rule Of Thirds. It takes some practice, but it is worth doing. If your composition has a natural thirds symmetry you have probably got a strong image. Look for points of interest for the intersections and lines or bigger features to match a thirds line with… like a horizon, major feature, sea/land line and so on.

In the final picture I have used the upland brook and the tree to be the major features on the third. The second tree down the brook a bit is nearly on the third. It serves to demonstrate that although the shot is not perfectly in line with the grid, it still works. The eye is not able to assess the situation to absolute accuracy. We are aiming to make the shot fall into thirds as nearly as possible. It still works even though it is slightly off the thirds. Don’t be slavish – the rule is a guideline. It is not a mathematical imperative!

Honiston Pass in the English Lake District, UK.

Honiston Pass in the English Lake District, UK. While the main feature is on the third, the minor feature which balances the picture is not quite on the other third. The picture works because there is still symmetry - it is close enough.
Don't slavishly follow the Rule of Thirds.
Click to see large view and no grid.

The Rule of Thirds is a convenient convention to help us compose a pleasing shot. It works because the eye searches for symmetry and finds it pleasing when it exists. If you can compose to the Thirds you will be more likely to have an impact and draw the viewer into your picture.

Have fun with this composition ‘rule’. It works, allows great creativity and it pleases the eye.

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’.

Can you write? Of course you can!
Write for Photokonnexion...

We would love to have your articles or tips posted on our site.
Find out more…
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