When you look at a photo, what do you see? Most people see plain ol’ pictures. Trained photographers see lines, patterns, contrast, colors, etc. Do you remember the computer screen in The Matrix? It was just a bunch of lines of green code falling down in seemingly random pattens, but to the trained eyes of the “Operators” they saw people, places, and things. This same concept exists in photography. You have to train your eye to approach an image as the arrangement of a series of elements brought together. Bring it back full circle to the definition we gave to “composition”…the “ingredients” that go into the visual presentation.
I’m going to show you some examples…see if you can spot the patterns:
Diagonal lines: See how your eyes drive from the field to the trees and then the white clouds push your eyes back up and to the right into the sky? If the clouds weren’t formed in the opposite diagonal your eyes would run off the frame and that wouldn’t be good. We want to intentionally move peoples’ eyes around the frame but never off the frame. Ideally, you can create a loop, where your audiences’ eyes go from element to element and never leave the frame.
Circles and complimentary colors: There are several things going on here that make it a compelling image. The canisters have a uniform shape. The canister in the middle stands out because it’s so much darker than the others similar-shaped canisters. We are interested in things that are different, but not just completely random: one thing that’s different in a sea of sameness. It’s probably why we like movies where there is conflict. Humans like drama. There’s so much drama in the L.B.C. What you’re seeing above is a type of drama. The pressure that the one canister has to conform to those around it. Also, there is a lot of cool stuff going on here with complimentary colors. Have you ever heard of the color wheel?
We won’t get into all the theory behind color here. What’s important to know is that every color has a complimentary color on the opposite side of the color wheel. In the image above with the canisters, find the same color of the blue wall on the color wheel above and look on the opposite side of the color wheel from it’s blue and you’ll notice that the oranges in the picture are pretty close to the oranges on the canisters. Hopefully, that sentence didn’t confuse you as much as it did me. The point is that some colors go better together than other colors. It’s not rocket science.
Here’s a quick read on the subject:
So as you can start to see, you may have many things going on in the same picture that are all purposefully arranged. Interesting photos don’t just happen, they are discovered and made. It’s not to say that you can’t luck into a great picture every once in awhile, because you will. I can hit a good shot in golf every so often, but Tiger Woods does it over and over again. Good photographers look at a scene and see what might be if they change their position or if that little kid with the colorful balloons will turn around at just the right moment as those nuns are passing by him.
Simplicity: You’re going to start seeing a really important pattern emerge in great photography….nothing wasted. Take writing as an example: you wouldn’t want to add even one “um” or “like”. Those filler words are superfluous and unnecessary. When you’re writing, you want every word to fight for its’ existence in the sentence. The same in photography, every element should fight for it’s existence in the picture. Go on flickr.com, look at the most popular images and time and time again, you’ll see that they reflect the simplicity principle. Go look at snapshots (bad pictures) and you’ll see that they are random and cluttered: confusing lighting, colors that clash, lawnchairs in the background, and on and on.
One last thing on this post. Start looking around at commercial photography in magazines and billboards. You will start to see these principles. Often times, I’ll look at something masculine-ly horrifying like a Better Homes and Gardens magazine just to observe the photography (Yeah sure, Kevin. You know you like knitting patterns). This is something you can do just about anywhere, that will help train your eyes.
ASSIGNMENT: Go to flickr.com and look at several pages of their “Most Interesting” photos. Here’s the LINK. Try to see if you can see the principles of lines, shapes, color, and simplicity that we discussed in this lesson. Now take at least one photo of a pattern and/or complimentary colors and submit it to our photo group here…LINK