This is the first part of the series The Seven Deadly Sins in Photography
There are seven days of the week, seven colors of the rainbow, seven notes on a musical scale, seven seas and seven continents in the world; seven branches for seven candles in the Menorah. On the lighter side, seven were the dwarfs chosen by Walt Disney’s for Snow White. And just as there are seven deadly or cardinal sins that may prevent us to get to the seventh heaven, there are seven sins to avoid for good photography. I know because I have committed them all and even today I may occasionally forget to avoid.
Nikonians moderator and pro photographer Martin Turner wrote: “Composition is the arrangement of the elements in an image, with regard for the framing, so that they form a harmonious whole which enhances the communication of the photographer's intention.” (Wiki>Composition)
The First Sin:
Placing your subject in the center of the frame.
Placing your subject in the center of the frame is one of the most frequently seen deadly sins. It is a sin because most frequently (almost always) it is not harmonious. The viewer’s eye goes straight into the subject but stops there and moves on. And so, if there is something else in the picture one misses the opportunity to capture the attention to see the whole frame containing those other elements which can make it a good photograph.
This is a sin I committed frequently, especially when enthralled by my kids when they were very young. I call those “emotional portraits”, in a futile effort to explain, if not to justify, not being good portraits photographically speaking.
Just as we discovered that the proportion of the circumference (perimeter) of a circle to its diameter is a constant, no matter the size of the circle and eventually called ∏ or Pi, we also discovered (not invented) the Golden Ratio or Divine Proportion: Ф or Phi, offering the most harmonious proportions as found in nature, the human body, ancient architecture and more. “The Rule of Thirds” is a good approximation, showing where it is best to place the subject within your frame.
Even when there no other significant elements to add to the image and as in the above samples the subject is attractive enough to capture the attention of the viewer, placement by the Rule of Thirds, or better, the Golden Ratio, enhances its impact by giving it a sense of movement.
And the same applies for all portraits, still life, macro, birds, wildlife and landscape.
This capital sin to avoid has a deadly variant: placing the horizon at the center, frequently seen in sea and landscapes.
This image above was complicated to make. A seven stitched images panorama that left me wanting, even asking myself: “And… what is the subject?” By doing this -with the horizon at the center- I was denying viewers and myself the impact of depth as in the image below.
Whether emphasizing the sky –if gorgeous- or the foreground like in the image above, it brings in a sense of infinity. Taking the horizon off-center makes for better photographs.
The only possible exception is when we may be looking to emphasize symmetry in an image:
Talking about landscapes, a very good friend of mine once told me “It is presumptuous to believe we make compositions. They are made by God; we only select an area of such composition to place inside our frame and choose an angle of view and timing.” And this friend is an outstanding photographer whose work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian.
Back to you soon with Part 2. The 2nd Deadly Sin.
Have a great time!
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