Art of Photography

Rob Townsend


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Exercise – Positioning the horizon

Brief:

Find a view with a visible horizon line. Compose a series of shots placing the horizon in various positions from the top to the bottom of the frame. Note how well the horizon placement works in each instance.

Equipment:

Canon EOS 650D with EF 18-200mm f/3.5 lens.

Method:

Being in a capital city at the moment, clear horizons are quite hard to come by. After a bit of searching I found a relatively identifiable horizon line by shooting from a vantage point on a bridge over the river. I had to shoot handheld but tried to maintain broadly the same viewpoint as I changed the horizon position.

Results:

1. Horizon very high: this version seems unbalanced to me, as it squashes the detail of the landscape into too small a space at the top of the image. The vast expanse of water dominates the image yet doesn’t have any inherent interest to it.

Horizon 1

Horizon 1

2. Horizon about two-thirds of way up: an improvement on version 1, as now you can at least see a bit more sky above the buildings and they don’t appear as squashed or cut off. The bland expanse of water still takes up too much room without adding any interest.

Horizon 2

Horizon 2

3. Horizon in the middle: seeing more of the detail and texture in the sky makes this more interesting to look at. However, placing the horizon slap-bang in the middle vertically makes it look very static and uninvolving.

Horizon 3

Horizon 3

4. Horizon about a third of the way up: my personal opinion is that this is the most successful image. It looks balanced, and by placing the horizon relatively low it provides a ‘grounding’ effect that resembles the natural order of things as seen in real life. There is enough of the water to provide context and give a little reflection, but it doesn’t overwhelm the image like the earlier shots. There is enough sky above to prove scale, and the clouds add some textural interest.

Horizon 4

Horizon 4

5. Horizon close to bottom edge: this is less successful as the greater predominance of sky adds nothing while the detailed landscape layer is being squeezed as in the first couple of shots. There’s just enough water to provide the context but not enough to provide an adequate sense of balance.

Horizon 5

Horizon 5

6. Horizon very close to bottom edge: this is least successful image. It looks cropped too short, and all the interesting detail is compressed to a thin layer at the bottom. The lack of visible water robs the viewer of important context that this is a riverside scene.

Horizon 6

Horizon 6

What I’ve learned:

With this series of pictures, and with others that I’ve already taken (and other people’s photos) I am more naturally attracted to positioning the horizon higher or lower than the middle of the image. Central positioning is too static and undynamic, and extreme positioning top and bottom usually look too squashed and unbalanced. Whilst the ‘rule of thirds’ might be a principle rather than a rule per se, it does seem to have application in my experience of positioning the horizon. As per previous exercises in this section, it has emphasised to me how much you can change the look and feel of an image through exactly how you frame it in the viewfinder.

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Exercise – Balance

Brief:

Take six already-taken photographs and identify how the balance works in each one. Identify the dominant parts in each image, and sketch a ‘weighing scale’ diagram to depict the balance. Consider how easy or difficult you found it to identify the balance in different images.

Results:

1. Chimes: this is an obvious example of symmetry on multiple axes.

Chimes

Chimes

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2. Gull: this is an example of static balance with symmetry on one axis:

Gull

Gull

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3. Hay: a more interesting balance here, with the smaller bales further towards the top and right balancing the dominant one bottom left.

Hay

Hay

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4. Roof: a similar balance of large / close to centre and small / further away from centre.

Roof

Roof

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5. Trees: again a juxtaposition of large / close to centre and small / far away, this time more obvious as it is the same object in both cases.

Trees

Trees

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6. Train: slightly less obvious than the others; I see the train as a sharp triangle shape dominating the left-hand side of the image, with the man at the end of the platform providing the counterbalance.

Train

Train

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What I’ve learned:

I found it very easy with photos 1 and 2 to identify the balance, as they are both use symmetry in quite obvious ways. The others, less so; I needed to get my eyes (and my brain) into the zone of identifying the dominant items in pictures and looking for how in or out of balance they were. I was dismayed (but not surprised!) that a great many of my old photos aren’t really balanced at all – I selected this half-dozen as the stand-out examples of when I’d managed to achieve a reasonable balance.

This has been something of a revelation to me; one of the things I said I wanted to get out of the course was an understanding of why I find some images engaging and others not (or why some are very visually arresting / disorienting, and why some seem particularly calming and serene, and so on). I’m beginning to appreciate that part of this instinctive response is driven by the balance (or lack thereof) in the image.

An interesting exercise!