Monday, September 12, 2011

Composing Composition

Focal Points, setting, details, composition…

In the visual arts there are a variety of simplistic guides that can help an artist create a strong composition and with enough fore-thought it is actually possible to push the limits of a piece to something that the masses will regard highly.

One of the basic guides for crafting a strong composition in the visual arts that can also be reflected in a compelling narrative is the Rule of Thirds. In the 1783 Sir Joshua Reynolds describes this in unquantified terms as 'the balance of dark and light. This has since been refined as conceptualizing an image by dividing the image into nine equal parts with two horizontal and two vertical lines. The points at which these lines meet are considered the 'power points.'

Photo Credit
Two primary concepts that can be abstracted from this Rule of Thirds are the ideas of 'balancing light and dark' and utilizing 'power points' at equivocal lengths.

In a narrative the balance of light and dark is often more complex than visualizing shadows and highlights. The overall tone of a piece can determine the 'exposure' for the piece but the shadows or 'darkest moments' in the piece will need to be of significant contrast to add sufficient dimension to the work. Eg. If the narrative is filled with deaths then the darkest moments will all appear the same level. The same is true for the highlights of a piece. If all the high points or highlights of a piece are on equal ground then there will be no significant contrast between one moment and the next. When all of the highlights and shadows of a piece are equal then the composition will be a dull neutral gray.

While finding the right balance of light and dark is integral to providing contrast in a piece, it is also necessary to define the 'power points' of the composition. These are the most visually striking focal points or in a narrative, the most thrilling moments of the piece. Together with balancing light and dark, these power points will be the contrasting subjects of the piece. Each of the four selected points and the 'strike line' leading to that point are inherently where the most emphasis is derived for a piece. These highest highlights to the lowest shadows provide the depth and contrast necessary to drive interest in a piece, when the appropriate focal points are selected for the piece at precise intervals the overall composition becomes an interesting piece.

To further enhance the the composition it is necessary to choose the appropriate setting to provide the requisite contrast between the focal points and the subject(s) of the composition. It is also necessary to choose the appropriate depth of field for each composition to emphasize details and enhance the overall composition.

Whether creating a visually striking image or an emotionally striking narrative, the abstracted principles remain the same; contrast and balance for the light and dark of the piece as well as choosing the appropriate subject(s) for the 'power points' and strike lines that lead up to these points.


stupidcat said...

I think this article is fantastic to take your photography to another level. Well done!

PW.Creighton said...

SC, thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I love looking at techniques from an abstract perspective that allows them to be used across mediums.

Michele Shaw said...

Wow, great post and so accurate. I think balance is THE hardest part about writing. I never considered it as all light, dark, or gray, but that is just perfect. This is a point of struggle for me, and one I find hard to see in my own work. TG for crit partners!

PW.Creighton said...

Thanks Michele, yeah, balancing light and shadow in a composition can be the most difficult part. Too many dark moments and light will provide too little contrast, you could even dull the entire piece. Funny how visual techniques apply to writing ;-)

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