Art of Photography

Rob Townsend


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Exercise – Vertical and horizontal frames

Brief:

Take 20 shots in vertical format. Review them to look for any similarities in the types of subject chosen. Then take shots of the same 20 subjects in horizontal format. Observe which pictures work better in each format.

Equipment:

Canon PowerShot S100.

Method:

I shot all these images in the space of about an hour as I wanted to maintain the shooting conditions (e.g. lighting) for comparison purposes. As instructed, I selected and shot the 20 vertical shots first, and only after reviewing what I’d shot in vertical format did I retrace my route and take the same 20 subjects in horizontal format.

Results:

Click on any image to go into slideshow view.

Looking back at the first set (the verticals) before I shot the horizontals, it became apparent that I had mostly sought out subjects that suited the format, such as buildings, trees, statues, various items of street furniture etc. In a few instances I chose subjects that I would have normally defaulted to horizontal but made a conscious decision to shoot vertical first.

  • Some of these (1, 7, 8, 10, 12, 15) suit the vertical format better in my opinion
  • Others (4, 5, 6, 9, 13, 14, 18) seemed to suit horizontal better
  • The remainder (2, 3, 11, 16, 17, 19, 20) looked equally balanced – albeit with a different ‘feel’ – in either format

What I’ve learned:

In this exercise it’s become apparent that some subjects can be much better served by shooting in a vertical format rather than the default horizontal. In my experience on this exercise, this is not simply that the objects themselves are tall/thin as opposed to short/wide, as in some cases a tall/thin subject works well in horizontal format if it is balanced with some other point(s) in the image that provide some context (e.g. 9, 13, 14, 17).

Similarly, some subjects that might initially seem more suited to horizontal, such as a landscape, can benefit from a vertical frame treatment if it helps to accentuate the perceived depth in the image (e.g. in image 10 with the view down the length of a river).

So this is another aspect of composition that I will take into account when framing images in future.

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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 – A sequence of composition

Brief:

Choose a situation that involves people and a mix of interesting potential subjects. Move through the scene looking through the viewfinder, taking a sequence of photos as you go along. Record all the images that you consider as possible photographs, culminating in the final shot that captures the scene best.

Equipment:

Canon EOS 650D with EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens.

Method:

I chose the daily market on Cours Saleya in the old town in Nice, early in the morning while the sun was still quite low. The various stalls sell fresh fruit, veg and flowers, plus you get the local cafes setting up around the outside – so I thought there would be plenty of interesting photo opportunities.

Results:

The brief says to keep the viewfinder to your eye throughout, but I found this quite difficult, especially with all the people around! It felt like I was constantly in danger of bumping into something or someone… So I did intermittently lower the camera to navigate around.

The sequence is detailed below. Clicking on a thumbnail will open a slideshow view.

The photo that I landed on at the end of the sequence is one that I think best captures the sights and atmosphere of the market, with the colourful produce as a strong foreground and the people milling around in the background. Whilst the produce is clearly the focus, the background covers a cross-section of the types of people that frequent the market – stallholders, customers, commuters, cafe diners, even a cleaner. This may not mean much to most viewers, but to me it captures the atmosphere of the market really well.

The market at Cours Saleya, May 2013

The market at Cours Saleya, May 2013

In the final photo I reduced the highlights in the top portion of the image, as they were blown to white in the original.

What I’ve learned:

If you’ll pardon the pun, this was real eye-opener. I thought I already took in my surroundings looking for potential photo opportunities, but literally holding the viewfinder to your eye (even if it feels unnatural at first) gives you a much stronger feeling for how the image will turn out. By fixing a frame around the image before you even decide to click the shutter you realise how much or how little of the subject you’re going to get in shot, and what the end result is going to look like.

I found it a little odd to capture all the ‘not quite right’ shots as some of these I’d have rejected at the time. It felt even odder to post the ‘outtakes’ here as I’m usually quite selective about what I publish! But I appreciate that part of the exercise is to capture what didn’t work in addition to what did.