Photography Composition and Direction
A little over a month ago, I created a photography group, “Riding with Rolando,” on Facebook that focuses on constructive not destructive photography critiques. While I do my best to participate in this active group now sporting almost 300 members and almost a dozen admins, the group flourishes with member activity just fine.
Many members have commented on how they’ve learned so much from this activity. Open to anyone with an interest in photography over 18 years of age, the primary photography genre focus is fashion, beauty, glamour, and limited fine art nudes of the female form, though we do allow almost every genre of photography from nature to portraits, with a few rare exceptions.
There are some requirements, like posting your original idea, or concept of the image along with the equipment and camera settings used so we can gather an idea of your intent. This gives the person giving the critique a foundation to base their remarks. It also helps everyone participating in this group understand the photographer’s mindset as well as the thought process of the persons giving the critiques.
In my almost 40 years of shooting photography professionally, I’ve worked with many photo editors, creative supervisors, art directors, etc., and one thing I’ve learned, is that everyone has their own idea on “how it should of or could have been done.” Not always for the betterment of the image, but for the image to fit the final use whether it’s for a website, magazine, newspaper or a marketing campaign for a product—usage of a photo can often dictate its composition.
There are two things that stick out in all those years working with art directors and photo editors, and I’ve noticed the same two traits, or lack of, in many of the photos posted in the photography critique group—composition and direction, so let’s look at two fundamentals of photography that help with both characteristics of a great photograph.
The Rule of Thirds—The Rule of Thirds is applicable to all forms of photography, but it’s a rule many photojournalists live by to create images with impact. You simply dissect your image capture area, or scene, into three equal parts, both horizontally and vertically, then you place your point of interest, whether it’s a human subject or action, where the intersecting lines meet.
This really helps you avoid the placement of your subject or point of interest, in the center of an image. The Rule of Thirds also makes an image more interesting than boring or something that seems out of place. Learn this rule then learn how to break it.
Rule of Direction—Basically, the Rule of Direction is an outcropping of the Rule of Thirds in the sense that if you apply the Rule of Direction, the Rule of Thirds is normally automatic. In the Rule of Direction, you are basically leaving room in the direction your subject is looking into. In other words, if your subject is looking to the left, you allow more room in that direction and crop the image from the right—show where your subject or action is looking or going into. In the case of the action going left, the right side of your action or subject is normally wasted space. This rule also applies top to bottom too, not just left and right.
Now you see how the Rule of Direction falls into the lap of the Rule of Thirds as your subject or point of interest should automatically fall into where the intersecting lines occur on one side of the image, then look towards the remainder two-thirds of the image. This normally helps illustrate the story, or increase the editorial value of the image and forces the viewer to go from one side of the image to another—then back to the point of interest in the photo.
The Rule of Direction literally makes the viewer see the image over and over again, from the point of interest to the directional space, back to the point of interest, then back to the directional space—like a circle, never ending, thus keeping the viewer interested in your photograph for a longer period of time.
When it comes to publication of your photos, editors want to ensure the reader, or viewer, remains interested on the page it’s published on as long as possible. The longer you can keep a set of eyes on a page, the chances of them receiving your intended message increases—not to mention, if you have advertising on that page, the advertiser gets more exposure and quite possibly a sale. It’s a psychological effect studied and proven by publishing precedence. Think of it as a “rule of law” when it comes to publication.
The Rule of Thirds and the Rule of Direction are rules of thumb by editors when it comes to placing images in the final publication layout. Generally an image with direction is placed in the layout where the action, or direction, looks into the gutter, or the center (binding) of the publication. Subconsciously this sends the reader from left to right, then from right to left, again, forming a circle of interest from one page to another and back, causing a constant viewing cycle to increase readership time spent viewing the publication.
So if you want your photos published, don’t forget the Rule of Thirds and the Rule of Direction. With that I close and as always, please don’t forget the men and women who serve to protect our country and the rules of law; God Bless them, their families and friends, Rolando.