Friday, September 30, 2011

3 Essential Elements

"Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk."
- Edward Weston

There are three basic elements I consider essential to a good photograph. Having said that I must point out there are thousands of good, even great photographs that lack one or more of these elements.

I don't like to think in terms of the "rules" of photography or composition. I think more in terms of guidelines. It's good to know and understand the "rules," but adhering to them can be stifling. Rules and guidelines should not restrict you. They should free you to experiment. Use them creatively. Explore their limits and push and break through this boundaries.

So here are the three basic elements to a good photograph that I keep in mind and use to guide me in making my photographs.

1. Good Light

Light doesn't have to be dramatic, bright, diffused or anything else but present. I must, however, define your subject. Light will convey your interpretation of the subject to the viewer.

Usually you have to make the most of the light available, so it's important to keep in mind how best to use the light you have to define your subject.

2. Tension

Tension attracts the viewer and draws attention to the subject and its context. You can create tension many ways: use of negative space, off center placement of the subject in the frame, motion, selective focus, uneven ratio of context to subject are all ways to achieve tension in a still image.

Tension is also a major factor in achieving the third basic element.

3. Visual Harmony

From the Greek Harmonia and Harmozo meaning agreement, to fit together, to join.

Visual harmony is a complementary balance of visual elements. The balance of elements does not necessarily have to be even or symmetrical. An uneven balance of elements can achieve visual harmony and the necessary tension to hold the viewer's attention.

Define your subject with good light, compose your image with a visual harmony that achieves the necessary visual tension and you'll have a better than good chance of consistently making good photographs.

All photos: © David W. Sumner

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