Lines, Shapes, and Composition
I know. Composition. Again – but look! This time we have drawings – sort of
We both take photos, but Mark is a natural at “seeing” the shot he wants. Leah – not so much. But composition can be learned. So once we realized this difference between us, we decided Mark should teach y’all some of his inner workings.
This is how Mark sees the world – even when he doesn’t have his camera:
Basically – straight lines framing or accenting/contrasting/stressing the shape of curved human bodies. I first started seeing things like this when I took an art history class and saw this painting by Parmigianino:
In my current Art History book
– it says this about the painting: Parmigianino spent six years working on this painting. The length and slenderness of all the limbs is exaggerated but it is the Madonna’s neck, likened to the ivory-colored column behind her, that gives the picture its expressive power.
And yeah, it’s kind of a weird painting – but then I started seeing other paintings differently – like this famous one by Diego Velasquez: Las Meninas
Of course – there is more than one way to view any piece of art:
Now it’s one thing to compose a shot when you have time – but it’s another thing to be able to do it on-the-fly, during an event, when people keep moving:
The thing with lines is that you can’t just depend on them to frame things – you actually have to MOVE into a position where the lines work for you and your shot. If you examine our photos – we like people to be flat-on facing us.
Rarely do we take shots that are just ‘off to the side’ or at some weak diagonal angle. We’re very big on getting in position to get THE SHOT. Sometimes it’s just a foot to the left, sometimes we need to move across the room – but we rarely ‘settle’ for a shot due to our position. When we enter a room – we see the space, the lines and the available shapes (yes, even Leah can do this now – it just took some more practice for her). They stand out to us. Then we see people and where they’re moving within the space and the lines.
If you know where the lines are in a room – then you’ll know when to take your shot as people move about the space. If something is happening across the room – you’re able to size-up and frame the shot without blinking, and then you can focus on the action that’s going on. Because you might not have another chance to get the shot you want so you’d better be quick and know what you’re doing (or at least know what you’re trying to do.)
We try to always ‘ground’ our photos of people with strong lines and shapes. That’s the most simple way I can put it. It’s a formula we use – but people
aren’t formulaic – so it works. They’re not static, even when our ‘framing’ IS static, and when you combine them, you tend to end up with strong photos that just ‘work’ – even if you don’t really know why, or spend the time to wax poetic and draw red lines all over them.
Now, go through your own photos – do you have strong lines that direct the viewer to your subjects? Or framing lines? Are the lines distracting and pulling your eye away from the subject? Do your lines contrast or emphasize what’s going on in your photos? Do you have a lot of diagonal lines showing frenetic excitement or energy? Do you have strong straight lines keeping everything stable and holding it all together? Do you have them both present, balancing out your composition?
Knowing your lines and shapes, and using them to effectively direct the viewer and balance out your composition, will help differentiate you from everyone else with an expensive camera. Look at the whole picture.
See you next week.
Thanks for reading.
Leah and Mark Tioxon