Composition One: Placement

Composition is a subject that can create a lot of debate, disagreement, loud arguments, and even insults. Many time honored guidelines exist for works of art. Whether it’s a painting, photograph, sketch, architectural work, statue, or something like furniture. The way components in an object relate to one another geometrically has a profound impact on the way the object is perceived by the human eye.

Of course there is more involved in making a visually appealing work of art than composition, but an image that might be great if the composition is good can be ruined by poor composition. Inversely, a well composed image with no subject of interest can be a waste of time as well. It seems popular in many circles to accept almost any work of art if the artist is well known and popular. People will convince themselves that they get what the artist is saying so others will think they are savvy rather than admit to themselves that they don’t really like a piece of art. Not caring much what others think of my aesthetic acumen, I tend to call an uninteresting image or other piece of art just that; uninteresting. If you want to see an example of what I am referring to search for Bob Law, minimalist and look at some of the things he did that sell for thousands of dollars and have no artistic merit at all. Law drew a black outline along the perimeter of a large white canvas then signed and dated it and it sold for thousands of dollars. People just buy it because he was well known and they think it makes them savvy art patrons. Ok, ok – back to composition….

There is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to art. If something makes just one person feel good, or perhaps bad looking at it, then perhaps it has artistic value. Anything that can evoke an emotional response has something going for it. Or does it? A picture of a gutted deer that a hunter is cleaning may create an emotional response, but not necessarily have redeeming value to many. However, a hunter who is not shocked by such a scene might find it appealing. Depending on how it is framed and what other elements are in the image, it could remind someone of the cold weather and long hikes carrying lots of heavy gear to get a deer so he can serve venison at a dinner for friends and family.

While there may be no absolute right or wrong about composition, there are some absolutes about the way most people visualize the world around them. Personally, I feel that an image is more enjoyable if my eyes land on it and are not compelled to roam around looking for a place from which I can study the subject. Empty space can be a powerful compositional tool when used with some thought. Your eye will tend to naturally move away from empty or negative space toward something of interest. Photographs frequently benefit from some some cropping.



The two versions of the image above demonstrate the rule of thirds. The top photo is acceptable. I shot it in a hospital room using only the popup flash on the camera. It wasn’t even my camera so I was doing the best with what was available. The camera was a Nikon D3200 which is a very good camera, but I would have preferred to have a better flash than the popup on the camera. Anyway, when I edited the photo I cropped it using evenly spaced grid lines to fit into thirds of the space. (The picture I provided the family didn’t have the grid lines on it.) With the composition improved by cropping and the young girl looking down at the baby, the viewers eyes are drawn right to the subject of the image. (I hope so anyway, you judge and decide.) The idea is to place objects of interest, the girl and the baby in this case, on points where the lines intersect.

If you are not familiar with the Rule of Thirds, you need to study this concept. The Rule of Thirds was first proposed by John Thomas Smith an 18th-19th century artist. He wasn’t the first one to use this type of composition; seems he was just the first one to label it. You may hear people saying this is just a rule and they are correct, but unless you are really skilled and know what is appealing, you might want to use this approach as you embark on your artistic journey.Hopefully, you are thinking about composition now. There will be more posts soon on this subject. It’s a subject that warrants a lot of thought. Composition is very important. As with light, composition can make or break an image.

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