Week 21 - Choose the framing format for dynamic effect

One of the first compositional decisions we make is often an overlooked one. You know that we begin the shooting process by deciding where to put the frame, but are you deliberate about what kind of frame you select?

For years, a standard frame format was the horizontal 3:2. Makes sense. The horizontal format is the easiest way to hold most cameras. Also, it keeps the same format of the 35 mm negative, which is 36mm x 24 mm.

Here is the Annapolis Harbor in a standard format - 4x6 horizontal. It is the size and format most viewers expect. It's a safe choice but not always the most creative.

As you develop your eye and choose the frame more deliberately, you’ll consider different options as you shoot. 

Since digital images make it so easy to crop after the fact, we can consider the 5x7, 4x5 (the 8x10) or even the 16x9 (HD video format). Many of these decisions we can make as we edit, but while we are shooting, we can still decide on horizontal vs. portrait.

Here is the Korean War Memorial opened up to a 5x7 horizontal format.

Photographing the same scene in 5x7 portrait mode, allows us to focus on just one of the faces.

The easy way to make that call is to follow the dimensions of your subject. Vertical subject? Flip the camera to portrait position. Horizontal subject? Keep the camera in the same format.

I think it's more fun to do the opposite sometimes - take horizontal subjects in portrait mode and vice versa.

The Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool can be tempting in portrait mode, but sometimes it's fun to experiment with horizontal. This is in 16x9 for effect.

The Challenge

This week let’s try different approaches. Take the same scene and shoot it in different formats -- horizontal and portrait. Experiment with different crop sizes, too. Share your favorites and tell us what influenced your decision. Be deliberate and think about these decisions before you shoot, not just after.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

Week 20 - Place the horizon to emphasize foreground or sky

Before you take that landscape photo with the horizon in the lower part of the frame, stop and think about why you are doing it.

I know that the horizon in the lower third can give your photo a sense of stability, but it might not always be where you find the most dramatic composition.

What will have the greatest interest - the foreground or the sky?

 

In this photo of the Cherry Blossom, placing the subject in the lower third highlights a bland and boring sky. It’s an expected placement but not the most interesting on that day.

Moving the horizon to the top third of the frame highlights the foreground. In this instance, the reflections provide a little more interest than the featureless sky.

Here is a more extreme angle of the kind of sky that invites you to place the horizon very low. The threatening clouds clearly stand out as the interesting feature here.

Horizons can play a role in other types of scenes as well. When you are indoors, treat the place where the back wall and floor meet as the horizon. Even when you can’t see it, the horizon is usually implied. We all know it is out there and assume its location. Your goal is to place it where it would have the most impact not reflexively move it to the lowest part of the frame.

 

The Challenge

Feature a horizon in one of your photographs. Be deliberate about the placement and tell us what influenced your decision. What effect were you trying to create?

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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Week 19 - Use nose room to lead the eye

First we make eye contact, then we follow the eyes. For that reason, we need nose room.

What does that mean? Here’s the internal dialog your potential viewers have when they look at a photo with a person in it. 

“Who is that?” We look at the eyes to identify and connect.

“What is he looking at?” We then move in the direction the eyes are pointed.

A compositional technique says you let that movement take you into the frame rather than out of it. We call that providing nose room.

 

When I took this photo of the Three Soldiers at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I placed them on the left of the frame and created open space in front of them. My viewer will make eye contact with the soldiers and then move into the frame. If the soldiers were placed on the right side, my viewers make eye contact and run into the edge of the frame. That has a very different effect.

This is a simple technique when one or two subjects are looking in the same direction, but what happens they are looking at each other?

 

In this case, you try to create a primary subject and secondary one. In my photo of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, my primary subject, the nurse, is looking at my secondary subject, the wounded soldier.

When you have two subjects interacting, it is always best to position yourself so one is clearly the primary. Do that by making sure we can see both eyes. We then follow her eyes to the secondary subject. If we can move our viewers deliberately around the frame, it makes for a much more pleasing experience.

 

The Challenge

Take a photo with a primary and secondary subject. Make it clear that one is the hero and position that person so we follow the eyes to the secondary subject.

Remember that you will have more impact if we can see both eyes of your primary subject. We’re not looking for two profiles. We want to connect with one person and then move to the second.

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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Recording - Composition Challenge discussion & feedback weeks 9-18

This month we reviewed the last 10 weeks of the Composition Challenges. Listen as I discuss the composition techniques we worked during Weeks 9-18, and I provide feedback on some of your submissions.

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Week 18 - Create a vanishing point

In Angela Pan’s spectacular photo of the Vietnam Wall, all lines lead to the Washington Monument, creating a photo composition technique called vanishing point.

When you create a vanishing point, all the parallel lines appear to converge in the distance. It’s a great way to show depth - a 2D image now begins to have a 3D look and feel.

This should be a simple one to create once you are aware of the effect. You are looking for multiple lines to lead the eye to the same point. In some cases, that might be infinity.

Once you’ve chosen the vanishing point, where should you place your subject? In this photo, we are led to the Washington Monument, but there are times when you can place your subject opposite the leading lines. 

Imagine someone was standing in the left of this photo, right near the camera. That person would clearly be the subject, but the vanishing point would still continue behind in the distance. Nothing wrong with that.

There are even times when the vanishing point happens outside the frame. We see the lines begin to converge, and it is implied they meet outside the borders of the image. Nothing wrong with that either. You get to decide. You are the artist.

Just in case you still have trouble visualizing the concept, I created a Flickr gallery with more examples. 

 

The Challenge

Create a photo where your leading lines converge at a vanishing point. You can place the subject at the vanishing point or opposite. You can even make the vanishing point outside the frame.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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Note: Angela B. Pan creates stunning HDR photography, which she showcases at www.abpan.com. She discussed how she creates her HDR images on our April 10, 2012 Free Photo Webinar.

 

Week 17 - Use selective focus to communicate a point

No, we aren't going to use it because it looks cool.

No, we aren't going to use it just to be artsy.

This week, we will use selective focus to communicate... to make a point.

Here is a technique all new photographers want to learn -- how to make the background blurry. It does look cool when you master it. Create a bokeh effect, and it even looks artsy. But why else might you use it?

Selective focus is a great tool to emphasize part of your frame and communicate a message. Here's an example:

I wanted to photograph the Capital Bikeshare racks in Washington, D.C. The rows of bright red bicycles with complementary yellow type make an inviting target. The repeating pattern of bicycle frames is also attractive.

Capturing both effects is great, but I also wanted to include a rider. Adding people to an image can create a new dimension. It adds life. 

I didn't want the person to be the focus of the image, however. Because we are drawn to the human form, it can easily become a distraction. 

Selective focus was the right tool, but how much blur?

In my first attempt, I used f/1.8, which totally softened the background. It was too much for my taste, as I wanted to communicate there was a person renting the bike. 

My second attempt at f/9 created too much detail in the background. I found myself looking at all the other items in the frame, as much as my subject. Distracting.

At f/4, I found my right balance. I had enough detail to communicate a person was renting a bike. I created enough of a blur to eliminate potential distractions.

Selective focus is used to separate your subject from the background. It can also be used to show just the right amount of complementary elements.

Not sure how to create selective focus? Learn about the four elements used to make blurry backgrounds in this blog post.

You can also use this helpful depth of field cheat sheet from Digital Camera World.

 

The Challenge

Take a photo using selective focus, but don't do it just to be artsy. That's too easy. Tell us why your choice enhanced the photo.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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Week 16 - Use the golden mean to divide the frame

When you think about it, there are two simple questions every photographer should answer before taking a picture: where will you put the frame and where will you put the subject in that frame.

A composition principle based on an ancient mathematical formula can help you make those decisions. Watch the video to learn more.

 

The Challenge

Take a photo that prominently uses the golden mean or rule of thirds. Make sure your subject or most interesting part of your subject is placed where the lines intersect.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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Week 15 - Fill the frame to improve your photography

One of the easiest ways to improve a photo is by getting close and filling the frame. Do you remember the hero shot of Week 1? We discussed the importance of finding one thing in your photo that you make the hero. This week, we will fill the frame with it. 

If you are clear about identifying a single subject and then fill the frame with it, you will have solved most of your composition problems.

Last week I was walking past wildflowers on the side of the road. The brilliant purple caught my eye, and I had to grab a quick shot -- or two. From a distance, there is no impact. I just show a cluster of tiny flowers. None stands out. No detail is recognizable. 

Before - From too far away there is no clear subject.  

How do you fix that? Pick one, get close, and fill the frame with it. Now I have a clear focal point. I have several flowers in the background to communicate that this is part of a larger group.

After - Fill the frame with one flower for greater impact. 

This is a technique that works with just about anything or anyone. If you are photographing your friends or kids, get in close and fill the frame with their faces. If you are traveling and decide to capture a building, fill the frame with it. Does a detail on the monument grab your interest? Zoom in, and fill the frame.

If you are photographing your child’s recital, move to the front of the room. You always want to be as close as you can, so you can fill the frame.

Zoom with your lens or with your feet. Maybe you do both. As long as the end result is -- say it with me -- filling the frame.

What you won’t do is use the digital zoom. That basically crops, not zooms. When the camera enlarges the image and crops it smaller, you lose quality. The picture can look blurry. If you need to crop, wait until you download the image and view it on your computer screen.

 

The Challenge

Pick a subject and fill the frame. You might even try your own before and after sequence. Show us how the photo looked when you first considered the shot and later when you filled the frame.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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Week 14 - Create eye contact to connect your viewer with your subject

The eyes of men converse as much as their tongues.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I photographed Dara as she was listening to the drums in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC. This was part of my 100 Strangers Project.Creating eye contact is one of the easiest ways to connect with someone. Psychologists tell us that we are drawn to each other's eyes because that is how we assess how you are feeling, read your mood, or even tell if you are paying attention. 

Stephen Janik and Rodney Wellens took it a step further. They conducted a study at the University of Miami in Florida and found that 43.4 percent of the attention we focus on someone is devoted to the eyes.

It should be no surprise that we can create a connection between our viewers and subject through eye contact.  

In this photo, when my subject looks away, we naturally assume his attention is elsewhere. We observe him connecting with something else. We might even wonder where he is looking or what's on his mind. I'm curious but not connected.

Another of my 100 Strangers Project subjects. He was just relaxing in Adams Morgan, Washington, DC. 

Have him make eye contact, and we have a very different level of engagement. Now I get to search his eyes and make some inferences about him. Are you a little more curious about who he is when you look into his eyes? I know I am.

In my first shot, I snuck one as he looked away. When he turned my way, I got him to pose.

When someone makes eye contact, you are usually taking a portrait or posing the subject, however it is possible to have eye contact from someone by accident. Know that when you do, your viewer will almost always focus on the eyes first. 

When your someone looks into your camera, that person usually becomes the focal point. We form a bond and want an introduction. After all, we have a connection.

 

The Challenge

Introduce me to someone. Take a photograph where your subject creates eye contact with us. See how easy that makes it to connect.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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Note: In my Dupont Circle Street Photography workshop, we have fun photographing people and telling their stories. I like to say that we begin in full paparazzi mode, photographing people from a distance. By the end of the workshop, we are taking street portraits of strangers where they look right into our frames and become our friends. You can do it on your own with the 100 Strangers project. It's a fun way to practice this assignment.

Week 13 - Use a foreground element in your photograph to show depth

Have you ever seen a landscape that looked incredible, but when you snapped your photo the image didn’t have the same impact?

It happens more times that we might care to admit. We live and experience a 3-D world, and sometimes that doesn’t always translate to a 2-D image... unless you can create the perception of depth. 

This week we will create a sense of depth by using a foreground element.

The flute in the foreground helps provide a sense of depth in this photo. Without it, we might not have a true appreciation of the distance to the buildings on the horizon. Flickr photo by Paul Chenoweth.

The foreground element technique is used frequently for nature and landscape photography, but you can also see it employed in photographs of building interiors.

When you are photographing a landscape or vista, it can be tempting to only focus on your primary subject, which is usually far away. The next time you compose a shot like that, include something close to you in the foreground. That element will create a sense of depth. 

How does it work? When your viewer sees the foreground element, it will look much bigger in comparison to the subject in the rear of the photo. Your viewer knows that the foreground element isn’t really that big and concludes that it must be closer. That subtle inclusion creates the perception of depth for most viewers.

When you are looking for your foreground element, make sure to use something that complements or leads the eye to your subject. In many cases, you can have it form a leading line. 

If you don’t do this correctly, you could end up with a foreground element that is distracting. If my eyes go to your foreground element and stop, it is likely serving as a distraction. Remember what we covered in Week 1 - we need one hero. Anything that doesn’t lead your eye to your subject is a villain and should be vanquished. 

 

The Challenge

Create a sense of depth in your photo by including a foreground element. Look for something that helps to tell the overall story or complements your subject.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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Week 12 - Photograph contrasts to differentiate your subject

One of my favorite episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants is the one called Opposite Day. (I only watch it with my kids. Wink, wink.)

If you haven't seen it, Squidward decides to sell his house and move, but he is worried that no one will buy it after seeing their potential neighbors. As a fix, Squidward convinces SpongeBob that it is Opposite Day, and everyone must do the opposite of their usual behavior. The antics ensue.

We don't have to be quite that wacky, but opposites can attract in photography.  This week we will focus on capturing contrasts, or opposites.

Show contrasts in concepts - new vs. old. Flickr photo by Leo Chimaera.

Show contrasts in color and texture. Flickr photo by Rebecca Bexxi.

Almost 100 years before Squidward invented Opposite Day, the theory emerged as an approach to composition. Johannes Itten, who ran a school of art, design, and architecture in Germany, would often challenge his students to look for different possibilities in opposites. He knew that contrast can help make your subject stand out and even lead the eye directly to it.

Photographers can show contrasts in several ways:

  • Use two different images that each show an opposing idea.
  • Juxtapose two different items in the same photo.
  • Illustrate two different concepts, such as loud/quiet or much/little.
  • Show extreme contrasts in light.

 Show contrast with color and concept. Flickr photo by .m for matthijs.

The Challenge

One way to think about contrasts might be to adopt your own opposite day. Find the contrasting ideas and images around you and photograph them. 

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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Week 11 - Use natural frames in photos to direct attention to your subject

Travel down New Orleans' historic St. Charles Avenue, and you will find hundreds of mansions framed by majestic southern live oak trees.

"The Jewel of America's Grand Avenues" provides an abundance of opportunities to practice the composition technique called natural frames or a frame within a frame.

A St. Charles Avenue mansion photographed using natural frames.

In any photo, your viewer wants to know what is most important. You can make your subject stand out by framing it with another element in the picture. 

Creating a frame can help lead your viewers' eyes to your focal point. In some cases, it can give them a path to follow to your intended destination. In other cases, your frame provides a border around the subject, telling your viewers that the most important part of the image is within these boundaries.

This is a technique often found on postcards and works well for travel photography establishing shots.

Many times you will find your natural frame in the foreground, but you can also use background elements as frames. Notice how the background feature of the ceiling arcs over the barrel.

Using the frame can help focus the eyes when there are potentially distracting items. You might not be sure that we are focusing on the bulldozer without the frame to direct your eyes.

 

The Challenge

Use a frame within a frame to lead your viewers or help them focus on your subject.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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Note: St. Charles Avenue is one of the many photo excursions destinations during our New Orleans Experience Photo Tours & Sightseeing Excursions.

 

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Composition Challenge Bonus: Show what Independence Day means to you

July 4 Naturalization ceremony. Flickr photo by BrittneyBushI am an American - by choice.

That's what usually goes through my mind on Independence Day. One morning in my early teens, my family and I entered a nondescript government building in New Orleans as foreign citizens and came out Americans. 

Inside we took an oath and recited the pledge of allegiance. We adopted the symbol that unites all Americans, Old Glory. 

I received emails from many of you over the past week asking what I was going to shoot on July 4th. When I think of this holiday visually, I think of symbols like the flag or its colors red, white, and blue. That says Independence Day to me. 

For many of you, the symbols include fireworks or cookouts. Or maybe you favor more patriotic images, like I do.

 

The Challenge

I'm proposing a thematic challenge this week. What does Independence Day mean to you? Either share pictures or words. 

 

Share your images

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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What so proudly we hail

Get some Independence inspiration with my Flickr Favorite Flags Gallery.

 

Week 10 - Use scale to show size relationships in your photos

By some estimates, the Great Wall of China stretches for almost 3,900 miles. If you tried to drive it, you would travel the equivalent of Washington, DC, to Los Angeles and back to Oklahoma City. Get the picture?

 

 

I told you the length of the drive, so you would have a reference point. Writers use that technique all the time to help readers understand scale.

What do photographers do? We find something our viewers will recognize and include it in the frame. It shows scale by using a visual comparison.

Flickr photo by fritzmb

For instance, a photo of the Great Wall of China by itself doesn't look like a wonder of the world, so we need a reference point.

Flickr photo by matt512.

If you see the people on the wall, it helps you appreciate the size of the structure. Can you find them? They look like specs.

Showing scale is a helpful compositional tool when you photograph subjects your viewers might not recognize. Your viewers won't know how big something is until they see it next to something they recognize. 

Here is another example I did with the Space Shuttle at the Air and Space Museum.

 

The Challenge

Help your viewer understand the size of your subject by including a reference point that shows scale. 

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

 

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Week 9: Let words carry visual weight in your photographs

In your photograph, all things are not created equal. 

When a viewer scans your image, she will be searching for something that looks "interesting" and usually find it in subjects that have visual weight.

Visual weight refers to items that are more likely to draw the attention of your viewer. Most notably visual weight refers to parts of the human face, like the eyes or mouth. It refers to some colors, like red or orange. 

This week we will focus on the visual weight created by words.

Photo by Greg Schmigel, www.justwhatisee.com

This is not a sign for a dog to see, according to Greg Schmigel. Greg captured this brilliant use of words as visual weight. If the photo is just of the dog, it doesn't have the same appeal. If the photo is just of the sign, it doesn't have the same effect.

When we scan a photograph, we almost always stop to read the words. After we read, we look for a connection between the words and the rest of the photograph. In street photography especially, you can use words to create humor, show irony, or reinforce a message. 

Remember that anything your viewer can read, he will read. If you can use that for more impact, you have the ability to create magic. 

 

The Challenge

Take a photograph where you use words to create visual weight. The words will ideally play a key part of the storytelling.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a photo to share, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr.

 

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Note: Greg Schmigel is a street photographer who uses his iPhone as his go to camera. He is the creative force behind Just What I See and founder of Mobile Photo Group

Composition Challenge feedback - Weeks 5 - 8

In this recording, I review the concepts in our Composition Challenge for weeks 5 - 8 and provide feedback on some of your pictures.

 

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Week 8 - Use lines to lead your viewer to the subject

If you provide a path, most people will follow it. Leading lines is not a truism for life, but a photography principle worth following.

By now we know that every photo should have a hero, or subject. You identify the one point in your frame that is most important -- the point where you would like your viewer to look first -- or last. 

Once you have identified your subject, your job is to lead your viewer's eye to it. A leading line is an effective way to make that happen. Use anything in your frame that creates a path or a repeating pattern to your subject.

Not just any line will do

A simple solution might be to look for a line but not any line will do. If you want your viewer to follow, you should use a line that creates a path. Here are three kinds of lines that work effectively. 

Diagonal lines

The diagonal line helps create a sense of movement. Photograph a line that is moving away from or toward your subject. I find diagonal lines have the greatest impact. They also have the added benefit of creating a sense of depth. The Industrial Bank sign cutting diagonally across the frame carries more impact than when it is just vertical.

S or curved lines

The curved line can be a graceful way of leading the eye across the frame. This path leads us to a couple on a leisurely stroll through Rock Creek Park and continues through an easy curve.

Converging lines

With the converging effect, two or more lines lead you to your subject. This can be a powerful way of directing your viewer. You can see how all the planks and spaces on the pier lead you to lucky number 13.

The Challenge

Lead us across your frame with the line of your choice -- diagonal, curved, or converging. You can have a line that just leads into infinity, but I think you might find that your lines work best when they lead to something, preferably your subject.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a leading line photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr.

 

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Free Photo Webinars - Composition Challenge discussion and feedback II

It's time for another Composition Challenge discussion and feedback during our June 12 Free Photo Webinar. 

The 21-Week Composition Challenge is a fun approach to improving one of the fundamentals of photography, composition. Each week, I provide free tutorials on a composition technique and a challenge for you to practice. We have had very enthusiastic participation, which is really fun to see. 

On Tuesday, we will discuss principles covered during weeks 5 - 8 of the challenge. In addition, I will be providing more detailed feedback on several submissions. This is also an opportunity for you to ask questions or begin a discussion about any of the completed weekly challenges.

Learn more about the 21-Week Composition Challenge

June 12, 2012

7 PM eastern

Register Now

Week 7: Use repeating patterns to lead the eye in photography

If you peer over the side of the 6th Street bridge in Annapolis, you might see sailboats gliding effortlessly across the Chesapeake Bay. You will also see another great photo opportunity of boats tied up to the dock. 

Why in the world would you be interested in boats that are tied up to a dock? Because they provide an opportunity to show another compositional element, repeating patterns.

The numbered boats create a repeating pattern that leads the eye across the frame.

Showing patterns in your photograph is a great way to capture your viewer's attention. You can use the pattern to frame your subject, lead the viewer to your subject or become your subject.

Use patterns in one of three ways:

Regular patterns - This creates a predictable cycle following the same kind of element being repeated. It can also be a number of different elements being repeated in the same order. You can follow an orderly row of any subject into infinity, the edge of the frame, or a natural conclusion.

Breaking patterns - Once the eyes detect an orderly flow, one way to create interest is to interrupt the rhythm. Use an opposite or contrasting element as a tool to break the pattern. For instance, look for an opposite color or shape that differs from the rest of the other items.

Irregular patterns - Sometimes you can create patterns without repeating the same elements. An irregular pattern creates its rhythm by grouping similar items rather than repeating them.

Use a contrasting color to break the pattern.

When you create your patterns, remember that a tight cropping tends to work best. Take your pattern to the edge of the frame and let your viewer project the pattern beyond the image.

 

The Challenge

Create an image with a repeating pattern that uses either a regular pattern, breaks the pattern, or an irregular pattern.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great hero photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr.

 

Join the Composition Challenge

Sign up to join the 21-Week Composition Challenge. Every week, I'll deliver a photo challenge by email for you to shoot and share. Learn more about it or sign up below.

 

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Week 6: Use motion blur to create a dynamic effect

At night fall, the iconic Maryland State House dome in Annapolis makes an interesting location to show a technique called motion blur. 

Do you see how the cars are speeding by me toward the state capitol? You do because of the long streaks of red tail lights. Without those streaks, the cars would look very static, almost parked.

Streaking red tail lights create motion blur at The Maryland State House in Annapolis.

Motion blur is a technique used to show your viewer that your subject is moving. 

Create motion blur my manipulating how slowly your shutter opens and closes. When you take a photo, anything that moves while the shutter is open looks like a blur or a smear. The elements that do not move remain sharply in focus. Use longer shutter speeds to create the blurring effect.

You're probably wondering "what's a good shutter speed to show motion blur?" It depends on a few things:

  • The speed your subject is moving. A segway rider won't show the same blur as a NASCAR racecar at full speed. Naturally the faster your subject moves, the more dramatic the blur you can create.
  • The direction your subject is moving. If your subject is moving across the frame, the motion will be different than if the subject is moving toward or away from you.
  • The focal length of your lens. The more you zoom in, the more sensitive your camera will be to motion or movement.
  • The amount of available light. It's easier to make dramatic motion blur shots in low light scenarios. Slow shutter speeds in the height of the day can lead to overexposed images.

To create dramatic motion blur images, try this:

  • Use a lower ISO. An ISO rating between 100 to 200 will force longer shutter speeds.
  • Shoot in shutter priority mode. Using the "S" mode on Nikons or "Tv" mode on Canons will allow you to directly control and slow down your camera shutter.
  • Steady yourself. The slow shutter speed that shows motion can also potentially create camera shake. Steady yourself for the slower speeds.
  • Use a tripod. For best results at very slow shutter speeds, you might need to use a tripod to keep the camera absolutely steady.

 

The Challenge

Create an image where you use motion blur to communicate that your subject is moving. It doesn't have to be a night shot, just any image where we clearly see motion or movement.

 

Share your images with us

Once you have a great hero photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr.

 

Join the Composition Challenge

Sign up to join the 21-Week Composition Challenge. Every week, I'll deliver a photo challenge by email for you to shoot and share. Learn more about it or sign up below.

 

Sign me up
Email:

 

Here's a bit of trivia: The Maryland State House in Annapolis is topped by the largest wooden dome built without nails in the country. :-)