Damon’s talk was about the conventions that help us compose pictures. His aims were to get us thinking about the traditional “Rules of Photography”, considering ways to go beyond the rules, and looking at the art and aesthetics behind them.
When he teaches photography, Damon finds that his students don’t really consider what viewers, as distinct from themselves, might get out of an image. So, he also encouraged us to think about image composition from the viewer perspective.
Good images go deeper than first impressions and an image has power because of what it says to the viewer, not what it is. The key question, therefore, is “does my image mean anything to the viewer?”
Damon explained that composition was about putting a picture together in “a pleasing way”. The “Rules of Photography” are helpful, but they are really just a beginner’s tool. It is important to understand that they are not absolute “must do”s, just psychological props to guide the eye.
Taking us through most of the well-known “Rules of Photography”, Damon showed us both how to use these rules and how to break them. And he showed us what could be achieved by doing so. He covered
- The Rule of Thirds
- The Golden Spiral
- The Rule of Odds
- Line of Sight
- Don’t clutter your image
- Give moving objects space to move into
- Don’t shoot the back of the subject (the eyes are everything)
- Negative space should justify itself.
And he followed up with some “quickies” – ideas to help break the rules.
- Pattern – Break the pattern.
- Don’t distort – Make distortion the point.
- Don’t allow subject overlap (it’s like clutter) – Make overlap the point.
- A pair is not enough – Bring pairs in successfully, either as togetherness or in opposition.
Damon’s point was that the rules can go too far. He contended that aesthetics are more powerful and are therefore extremely useful in composition.
He explained that the two basics of composition are the appearance of the subject and the relationship between the subject and its environment. When we are considering the composition, we should also consider the “Elements of Art”. These elements are the essential components, or building blocks, of any artwork. They are
- Shape (lines enclosing a space)
- Form (adding depth to a shape to provide three dimensions)
- Value (lightness and darkness, usually called “tone” in photography)
- Colour (hue)
- Texture (how an object will feel to touch)
Damon suggested that an understanding of these elements could be used to enhance images at the composition stage.
For example, a line – which might be real or imaginary/implied – can be thick or thin, long or short, straight or curved, in one position or another. Straight lines are mechanistic; curved lines bring comfort and ease; horizontal lines create a feeling of stability and calm; vertical lines suggest height and strength; diagonal lines give movement and dynamism; zigzags convey unrest, turmoil, and movement; and so forth.
Majoring on a couple of elements, such as line and colour or form and value (tone), rather than trying to use them all together, can add depth, dimension, texture, and meaning to images.
Damon’s view was that composition is about creating meaning, impact, and aesthetics. The rules may be a good start. But they do not determine “good” photography. We should consider instead the “Elements of Art” to enable our images to be interpreted by the viewer and add emotional impact. He wanted to create an “explosion of understanding” for the viewer!
This was a very stimulating and enjoyable evening. Damon fitted so much material into the time available and his aims for the evening were fully achieved. With many illustrations, he showed us numerous possibilities for successfully using, ignoring, or breaking the photographic rules to make successful images. And, perhaps more importantly, he amply demonstrated how the “Elements of Art” can be used as an alternative aid to composition.
This was a very informative presentation, providing much food for thought. It should help everyone create more beautiful and effective images.