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We’ve received some very nice comments from some of you subscribers recently – so thank you for your kind words! We hope you’re finding this weekly email useful – or at the very least, we hope you like the photos.

This week’s topic? Lines and composition. What I’m about to say isn’t ground breaking – but it’s definitely a core piece of our style and how we compose our shots. We’ve been photographing so much over these past nine months that these days, everything we see if a photographic composition. Driving down the road, walking the aisles in a grocery store, or just looking at the trees and sky. All of it – all the time. How would I compose this shot? For us – we start simple and for the most part we stick with simple. Okay – enough talk – here’s the principle we follow when composing shots.

Find strong lines, and then throw people in there.

That’s… rule number 1.

I know. Profound huh? Maybe not. But having strong lines in your composition gives your photos weight and can hold them together even when your subjects are going wild (kids!).

You already know that you can use lines to frame people and ‘lead’ the viewer’s eyes – but there’s a difference between artificially creating diagonal lines by turning your camera sideways at a 45 degree angle, and actually using the already present lines created by the environment. First – you’re not making it more difficult for the viewer to see your photo. For every diagonal photo turned on its side 45 degrees, you have a viewer that has to turn their head 45 degrees. Do that more than 3 times and you’ll have viewers start wishing for someone who can hold their camera evenly.

There is a reason why you don’t see photos from Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, or Henri Cartier-Bresson, taken at a sharp 45 degree sideways angle (just to name a few great photographers.)

Since we are often in man made environments – there are strong lines everywhere already present. Let the lines frame your subjects and balance your photos, rather than making the lines compete with your subjects. People are dynamic and curvy and they can provide all of the excitement in your compositions. You don’t need to muddle your composition with lines that detract from the people in your photos.

Of course – you can use people to create new leading lines. It’s easy to do this when you’re posing a shot, but try doing this at events. It’s trickier – but not impossible. You just have to be really alert and know what shot you want… and then wait for people to fill in the frame. Sometimes, when it happens… it’s kind of like magic.

Of course – sometimes you just have to move people around and make them stand there. Even they’re not ‘literally’ creating lines in your photograph, just positioning them in a certain direction will create lines that viewers can follow – so make sure your focal point is something you want and don’t leave it up to chance – and that’s one of the many things we’ve learned over the past year of photographing. As much as it seems like great shots ‘just happen’ or people ‘just get lucky’ – there is a lot of work that goes into making ‘luck happen’. You have to know what shot you want before people ever show up into the frame.
A few weeks ago I photographed a CARE charity event for their own staff living and working in Haiti. As you look through this gallery, notice the ‘posed’ quality of the photographs, but know that very few of them were actually ‘posed’. It was a lot of work – but I worked really hard at being patient, looking for shots, and WAITING for shots – so much that it felt like I was really… willing people to move where I wanted them to be so I could take that photograph I had in my head. Yeah. I know – I get crazy about this stuff.
Now – different from ‘framing’ a shot – you can use lines to highlight certain qualities of a photograph. The photo above? The hard diagonal lines of the wall and buildings in the lower half of the frame guide you inward towards the middle (obviously) – but then once you get to Molly’s face – the explosion of tree and sky bring your gaze upward while the fence and powerlines actually help to open everything back up and out, rather than closing things in since they’re ‘lighter’ than the diagonal lines of the building and wall.

So it accomplishes guiding the viewer’s gaze by pulling them in through the lower half of the frame and then back out through the upper half. You should start thinking about what path your viewer’s gaze will follow when you are making your photographs.

In this photo of Ashley, we have the same leading diagonal line that you’ve seen a billion times. What helps to make this frame a little different is that Ashley’s vertical stance is repeated by the tower, the smokestack, the lamppost and even the fence posts – all of these vertical lines help to balance the very strong diagonal lines that pull us to the right side of the frame.
In this photo of April – the wall on the left is obviously leading the viewer inwards toward her. The strong line on the right again balances the horizontal line from the wall, but also guides the viewer’s gaze upwards towards her face.So even though technically the lines coverge in the lower right corner – the viewer’s gaze is led upwards towards her face – where their gaze should be. The two buildings in the middle of the wall on the left? Also there to help balance out the shot.

Of course – most of the time you shouldn’t be thinking so hard about all of this and you should just be taking photographs. However, when you’re looking at work by other photographers, really look at their compositions and see if you can tell if they were just getting lucky, or if they actually had a purposeful hand in making the photograph.

We think the term ‘photo-journalistic’ is too often an excuse for poorly composed photographs, and if you’re hiring a photographer, you should expect much, much more.

Thanks for reading and we’ll see you next week.


Leah and Mark Tioxon

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