Negative space

Negative space is the area not covered by the subject. We can use negative space to add interest or, in some cases convey calm. Negative space is not wasted space, in this case less is more.

Include negative space in images that you want to send to a micro stock agency. Agencies that buy rights to images are usually looking for images that will support product sales, negative space in an image provides room for text.

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The boats are blobs of colour on a blank canvas. Negative space is to the upper right. The negative space amplifies the bleak weather that the boats are experiencing.

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The trees and bridge form a boundary between two negative spaces. Negative space can be used for many purposes.

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The text is “found poetry” compiled from the English translations on information signs in the various parks we traveled to in China.

Balance

To have balance, elements in the picture work together without overpowering other elements. Not every image needs to be balanced, imbalance can be used as an effective compositional tool.

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Here the scene is balanced by the diagonal progression of the tables. The scene is not weighted to one side or the other. The apparent weight of the tables anchors the image.

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All of the elements slope downhill, the foreground rocks and the background sky and trees enhance the terraced building. Natural and artificial are in balance.

Balance–part deux

The rules say that we should leave room in front of the subject to allow for implied movement. Minimizing the space in front of the subject creates tension by seeming to trap or confine the subject.

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Here there is enough room in front of the goalie for her to react to the incoming puck.

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Here the net has enough room to fly directly at the viewer.

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This antelope ground squirrel has room to run to the left.

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Here the squirrel appears to be trapped by the edge of the picture. 

Breaking the rule can lead to good images.

Getting around

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the most useful composition techniques in photography. It can be used in all types of photography to produce images which are more engaging and better balanced.

The rule of thirds involves dividing up your image using 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines – most digital cameras have a rule of thirds overlay in the viewfinder which is convenient for following or breaking the rule.

You then position the important elements in your scene along those lines, or at the points where they meet.

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A well balanced image based on the RoT.

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Eyes on the rule.

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Here the jets are on the lower right rule of thirds intersection, the apex of the curve is on the upper third line and the strat of the smoke trail is in the lower left third box.

The Golden Mean

Another way to position objects for impact is the Golden Mean or Golden Ratio. The ratio is based on a rectangle with proportions of 1 to 1.61803398875, 1 to 1.6 will do nicely. Our FF and APSc sensors are 1 to 1.5, the 4/3 sensor is 1 to 1.3. To achieve the “golden proportion” we will have to crop a little but not much.

If we draw a Fibonacci Spiral inside the golden rectangle and draw some perfect squares to intersect with the spiral, we have a new technique for positioning subjects for impact.

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This is why why we don’t have a golden mean overlay in our viewfinders. But we do have access to many composition overlays in Lightroom.

Composition overlays in LR

Open the Crop & Straighten tool in the Develop section of Lightroom and press O to change the overlay. This allows us to cycle through the following overlays:

  • Grids
  • Thirds
  • Diagonals
  • Triangles
  • Golden Spiral
  • Golden Ratio
  • Aspect Ratios – 4×5, 5×7, 16×9, etc

Press Shift+O to rotate the overlay

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Rule of Thirds

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Golden Spiral

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Golden Mean Thirds

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Triangles

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Cropping to format

Triangles and leading lines

Use triangles to emphasis a subject. The idea is to put the primary objects inside a triangle or we could put the primary objects outside of the triangle. We can even use multiple triangles.

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An image can have several triangles

Leading lines pull the eye into, or out of, a scene

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Here the road acts as a leading line to draw us into the image.

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The slope leads the eye uphill (or downhill depending on how your brain works). In this case, the slope pulls the eye which makes it more likely that the viewer will see all of the elements in the scene, not just the obvious one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here the train and tracks lead the eye into the background of the image.

What’s your focus?

Using the right focal length and a wide open aperture of f 2.8 or lower, we can isolate a subject in a scene. The shallow focus provided by long lenses and wide apertures allows us to lift a subject out of the background.

Focus carefully, the depth of focus will be razor thin.

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Long lens, wide aperture, and short camera to subject distance, throw the background completely out of focus. It is important to watch the background to eliminate as many distracting objects (fuzzy blobs) as possible.

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Here a wide aperture gives shallow focus on front row. A longer camera to subject distance kept the back rows in the composition but still allows the focus to be on the front row of dancers.

Buckets of bokeh

Bokeh is what we used to call the out of focus crap in the background. Now a compositional element/technique. If used well, bokeh can enhance some images.

Look for elements in the background that will make aesthetically pleasing patterns when thrown out of focus.

  • Small lights, small Christmas lights work well.
  • Variations in illumination.

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Here creamy bokeh produced by sunlight on fern fronds provides a contrasting background to the fiddlehead.

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The bokeh here provides a subtle background to the fall coloured leaves in the foreground.

Lets focus on everything

Consider a landscape where you want everything — foreground, mid-ground, and background — to appear sharp. If you focus on the foreground, the background is blurry. If you focus on the background, the foreground is blurry. If you focus half-way between, both foreground and background are blurry. 

You could go to f 22, but that brings problems with some lens/camera combinations because light bends around the aperture blades at high f stops causing defocusing of sharp edges.

There are a couple of solutions. Focus stacking uses multiple source images blended together in software. The process is time consuming and requires a tripod to get the best results or any results.

The other option is to use the hyperfocal method. This method requires only one shot and the tripod becomes optional.

Hyperfocal distance is the focusing distance that gives your photos the greatest depth of field.

We can determine the hyperfocal distance using the following formula…

H=f^2/N_C +f

which reduces to

H≈f^2/N_c

where

H = Hyperfocal distance

f = Focal length

N = Aperture diameter or f stop number

c = acceptable Circle of Confusion

Or you can use a simple chart

Or an app

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The FF chart

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And the APSc chart.

For and focal length and aperture setting, the chart for your style of camera will provide the distance that you should focus at. Remember to set the lens to manual focus.

If we use a 50 mm lens at f 8 on our APSc camera, and focus at 16.75 meters, everything in the image will be acceptably sharp from about 1 meter in front of the camera to infinity.

There are apps that do all the calculations for us.

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Apps are available for iOS and Android.

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Shot on a four-thirds camera, a moderate aperture setting of f 9.5 with the lens set at 45 mm and focusing at the hyperfocal distance calculated, this image is acceptably sharp from foreground to infinity.

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Even with a wide lens (28 mm) and medium aperture setting (f 6.7), using the hyperfocal technique gives acceptable focus from foreground to infinity.

On being framed

Sometimes we can include natural frames inside our images to create interest. Frames provide boundaries that constrain the viewers attention to a subject. Frame examples include overhanging tree branches, icicles, a doorway, and more.

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Here the window in the rock wall frames the two children drawing the viewer’s attention.

Poetic Suzhou Garden – Suzhou, China – 2018

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Here the harbour rock wall and the shoreline form a partial frame. Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru – 2008