Visual devices in photography

Rule of thirds is always a good start

Susan Sontag said a photograph is a three-dimensional moment in time that is seen and then captured and cropped into a two-dimensional frame. Though the three-dimensional moment is seen by the human eye the moment it is contained in the two-dimensional frame of the photograph it needs visual devices to work as a photograph for the same human eyes now gazing on it in it’s altered form.

The two-dimensional frame of photography is noticed the moment we take a camera up to our eye. The unframed world seen by the human eye is sharply cut into a small rectangle with defined edges and corners that is not natural to the normal human vision. These defined edges affect the final picture. You can emphasise the vertical with a portrait frame or you can emphasise the horizontal with a landscape frame. It is within this vertical portrait or horizontal landscape frame that we position the content of our photograph.

By positioning the main focus of our image using the general rule of thirds, we can be in a strong starting point in photography. By dividing the length and width of the camera’s rectangle viewfinder into thirds we have four points of pleasing visual strength. By placing the focus of the image on one of these points and not dead centre of the photograph the image will have more interest in the human eye.

Drink some coffee now.

The camera just faithfully records what is in front of the lens, the photographer must crop and use the defined edges of the image to hold the photograph together. The human eye can concentrate on an area of interest, the camera cannot…

Along with the edges of the frame and the rule of thirds, the photographer has a list of visual devices that will lead the eyes of the viewers of the photographer’s images.

A pattern in photography is made stronger when it is broken. Without a halt in the pattern, the photographer might as well just photocopy a piece of wallpaper. A crowd scene with a lone flagbearer makes a spot on which the human eye can rest. Without the flag bearer in the swirling crowd, the eye of the viewer will soon drift elsewhere.

A line in a photograph can be a divide between elements, a chain of elements that together form a visual linear link through a picture. A linear element leads the viewer’s eye around the image. A linear element can be straight, curved or jagged and can affect the overall feel of the photograph too.

We live in a world of colour. Photography heightens the effects of the colours that we are surrounded by and to some extent take for granted in our daily lives. Colour can link elements in our pictures. Warm colours like red and orange come out to the viewer while the cool colours like blues and greens move away from the viewer. The light by which we take our pictures is not neutral either, it can be hard or soft. Hard light heightens colour and soft light mutes the same. Colour is reflected by light and by doing so it takes on some of that colour in the end photographed quality.

Contrast is described as the state of being strikingly different from something else, typically something in juxtaposition or close association. In photography, the strikingly difference can be light and dark, texture, colour or pattern.

In closing we must remember that all of the above are just devices and not the subject of our photographs, these devices well used can make our pictures much stronger but they are never the subject matter of a photograph that has something to say for itself.

Finish off the coffee

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