The lamp, the man on the left, and the woman on the right combine to form a calm triangle, which stands in contrast to the movement of the approaching underground train.
Information: 17 mm | f5,6 | 1/30 s | ISO 1 600
If you want to take a photo of three people, the most boring variation is to arrange them standing next to one another. If the heads form a triangle the composition is more interesting, and the picture generally looks better. If the point of the triangle is facing upwards, the structure is at its most stable and the picture appears calm. If the point is facing downwards, the impression is one of instability. If the triangle sits at an angle, more dynamism is brought to the image.
Left: The triangle formed by the heads is tilted and brings dynamism to the picture. Through the central position of the mother and the way she holds her hands, however, the image gives off a sense of security. (Hungary, end of the 19th Century).
Right: The parents have the same pose, and their heads lie at the same level. Together with those of the parents, the head of the child forms a triangle standing on its point. Between the parents, the child appears somewhat lost, an impression that is reinforced by the image composition (Hungary, 1931).
If picture elements are so small that they no longer play a role as surfaces, only their position, brightness, and colour remain important. They will then be seen as artistic points. Through its position a point can be calming or can build tension, it can lie in relation to a surface, or can form an almost musical formulation together with other points. Generally speaking a point is a more dynamic element. The viewer connects the positions of points with each other, allowing them to create shapes, or curved lines.
The yellow blossom in front of the stream draws the eye strongly towards it, but the image still appears relatively calm because the points almost create a sense of balance.
Information: 100 mm | f2,8 | 1/1000 s | ISO 400 | Macro lens
The golden ratio divides a section so that a : b = (a + b) : a. This means that larger section has the same relation to the smaller section, as the section as a whole has to the larger section.
The golden ratio is a rule of design that has been known since antiquity. An area is divided in such a way that the relation of the smaller part to the larger part is equivalent to the relation of the larger part to the surface as a whole. For an area of size 1, the division therefore occurs at around 0.618. In reality the number is infinitely long, but you will not be able to work with it in such precision. To express this in another way, the ratio is 1:1.618. It is no coincidence that the decimal places are identical - this is a consequence of the mathematical uniqueness of this relationship. The golden ratio is a relationship that can be seen often in nature, but you will also see it in architecture and art, as well as in typography and product design.
The boat is arranged according to the golden ratio. Even the relation between the height of the picture and its length is in accordance with the golden ratio.
Information: 22 mm | f7,1 | 1/60 s | ISO 640
The rule of thirds also helps to ensure a harmonious image structure. It has become very popular in recent years, because it is easy to explain and is now featured as a tool in Photoshop and certain camera displays. The image surface is divided into three equal areas both horizontally and vertically. The aim is then to align the important image elements with the boarder lines of these areas – or on the crossings
I personally prefer to see the rule of thirds as more of a useful tool that can help you move the subject away from the middle. Over time you should learn to trust your own instincts and position the subject where you feel it fits best. Don’t forget that it is not always about creating harmony; sometimes you want to bring tension into a picture, in which case this balance is not needed. With many cameras you can have the grid overlying the display, and it can also be overlaid in photo editing software such as Photoshop CS5. Even if you don’t want to stick to the rule of thirds exactly, the grid can be useful for positioning. The rule of thirds, though useful, does not come close to the importance of the golden ratio, an eternal principle that the Romans named "divine proportion".
The rule of thirds with an overlying grid. The unedited, original version of the image is more exciting and elegant, because it does not adhere to the rule of thirds exactly. Information: 24 mm | f10 | 1/800 s | ISO 160
The composition of an image alone can determine whether a picture appears calm or in motion. If you stand in front of a house, for example, you can position yourself parallel in front of the facade and, if you are shooting something up above, can balance the falling lines completely. The result will be a calm picture, though the architecture in itself will not appear dynamic. Alternatively, you could position yourself at the corner of the house, with the facade extending into the distance and the falling lines unbalanced, and could tilt the camera to photograph something high above. The vertical lines have then disappeared, the image is dominated by inclined lines, and the building appears to lean. Whether or not you want a house to have this impression of movement is up to you, but in certain cases it is definitely worthwhile. For subjects that are actually moving, you should plan these design elements in advance: A photo of a racing car or an animal in flight does not usually work well if it seems static, because this doesn’t fit with the theme. However, the contrast between content and structure can often give an image a unique charm. Even if you structure the image in a dynamic way, you should try to balance the composition. The photo may otherwise come across as disturbed, which in turn makes the viewer nervous, as a slanted picture hanging on the wall does.
Despite the very dynamic structure, the composition is particularly clear. The corners of the image appear to support the lean somewhat. The image is not simply at an angle, but has been designed very carefully (St. Peter's Church, Lübeck). Information: 24 mm | f11 | 1/40 s | ISO 100 | Tilt-Shift Lens
2) This image is comprised of contrasting slopes. Despite the cool colours it comes across as very dynamic
Information: 12 mm | f8,0 | 15 s | ISO 1 600
3) In this image there are only horizontal and vertical lines. Though in portrait format, and though the vertical lines are stressed, the overall impression created is static and calm (Vodafone tower, Düsseldorf).
Information: 40 mm | f11 | 1/180 s | ISO 100 | APS-C-Sensor | Perspective correction with Photoshop
If you want to take a great picture your goal should be to remove everything that is unnecessary, rather than to include as much as possible. Why include an element that doesn’t have any meaning? Why use a stylistic device that doesn’t benefit the effect of the image in any way?
It is not just that uncluttered pictures are easier to understand; they are also more appealing to the eye. This applies not just to photography, but also to architecture and design. The idea that “less is more”, from Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe, is still almost universally applicable today. It can be fun to break away from this principle every now and then, to create pictures that are almost overflowing. In the long run, however, a minimalist approach will take you much further. You will often have enough difficulties shooting a subject free from annoying or distracting elements. If you are able to take a picture that is simple, you should do so. Some photographers have developed habits that work against this. For example, the need to have elements in the foreground that frame the actual subject, or paying too little attention to what is in the background of the image, which leads to unwanted details. Don’t just enjoy your good pictures, have a look at the bad ones too. Why didn’t they come out as expected?
A winter's dusk. The focal point was set on the branches in the distance. This was an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a Japanese Haiku sketch.
Information: 50 mm | f1,4 | 1/100 s | ISO 800 | APS-C-Sensor
I came across this tailor’s dummy when I was shooting the company portrait of a fashion firm. It produced a remarkably clear black and white image.
Information: 50 mm | f2,0 | 1/60 s | ISO 250
It is not always possible to remove all of the annoying details when taking a photo. Sometimes there just isn’t a section that really works and that also fits inside the frame provided by the viewfinder. When you look at the picture on your computer, however, you have more time to look at it, and are often able to produce a much better image by trimming the original. You may be able to cut off something annoying, or ensure a much more harmonic arrangement of the picture elements in the final format.
Though, in my analogue days, I belonged to the photographers who always enlarged the full negative, I was at that time able to use cameras that offered four different frame sizes. Today, I prefer to put more effort into using the sensor resolution and ensuring the utmost technical quality of my shots. This provides greater flexibility for trimming afterwards. Where possible, of course, I always try to capture the original picture in the perfect format.
After trimming, the subject has more room in the picture, the format is better and, apart from the passers-by, there are almost no distractions.
This photo of St. Basil’s Cathedral was taken almost in passing. The subject is too central and much of the content is unnecessary. The right third adds nothing to the picture, the fence is annoying, and the whole area to the left, behind the monument, is also redundant.
Information: 22 mm | f5,6 | 1/1250 s | ISO 100
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