Archive for January, 2012

Composition technique: Subtlety

The second article in the series of compositional techniques (as opposed to principles) has now been published. This time, the subject is Subtlety.

Once again, all samples are taken from submissions by members of the Flickr group Learn Composition by Example.

My thanks to all those who participated.

Protikkha (waiting eagerly)

Next up, an absolute stunner – a compositional jewel – from my friend Aftab Uzzaman (aftab.)


With an image this well put together, it is difficult to know where to start. The subject itself is appealing in its power and grace – immediately arresting. But we then have compositional elements that play into each other, holding it all together. There is the powerful diagonal formed by the snake’s head and the upper curves of its body, extended forward in the texture of the log into the bottom corner: this provides the primary axis of the scene.

But also, the loop of body ion conjunction with the diagonal creates a triangle that dominates the scene, one that combines with the limited depth of field to pull the eye off the primary line, balancing it perfectly between foreground and distance. (There is, of course, the implicit – perhaps overly pronounced – S-curve in there too.) The balance does not stop there. The presence on the right side is balanced nicely by the out-of-focus negative space background that occupies the top left of the image. Soft, and the source of the lighting.

Then, fortuitously, there is one more element that works wonders: the knot on the side of the branch, just to the left of the snake’s body curve, that though not an exact mirroring, still acts as an echo of the form of its head: a virtual shadow.

Two additional elements also work in the image’s favour: the rather harsh lighting, and the natural pattern of scales that it picks out.

If danger were always this beautiful, we would all embrace it without fear.


A first for this blog, Pavel Muller manages to post two images that are compositionally strong enough to get them mentioned back to back.

Togetherness, but Pavel M

While quite easily identifiable, this image also manages to be very much an abstract: the simplicity of the (natural) black and white portions, and the intrinsic texture mean that we are automatically captured by the interplays of contrast. On its own, that would be intriguing, but not a masterpiece of composition. However, the addition of the dominant diagonal – black above, white below; neither absolute – and the great distance visible, such that the texture of the surface follows (rather than crosses) the top and left edges, mean that there is a strong sense of direction up and through the scene.

The crowning touch, though, would have to be the foreground tire track that plays across the grain: a sense of scale that merges into the overall direction through the scene.

Harsh, cold, and compelling.

Sunset over Minden Riverwalk Park

Next up for an analysis is a Canadian winter sunset by (first-time featured) contact Pavel Muller.

Sunset over Minden Riverwalk Park, by Pavel M

This image has many of the classic aesthetic qualities of a good sunset going for it, but it is the well-balanced composition that holds it together. The combination of soft light and silhouette is powerful in any situation, but this scene does lack the tones-of-red colouration of the sky that attracts many.

Instead, it is the way the light falls on the river’s surface, picking out the soft mist that floats above it that creates the magic here. That bright fire on the water provides the stunning contrast with the silhouetted trees: ingredients for drama. This lighting provides a powerful leading line that also acts as an anchor in the lower right corner, balancing the anchoring line into the left corner (as formed by the edge of the bank’s shadow on the river): together, a dominant curve that demands we follow it, with a soft – sensual – path across the smooth water in between.

All of this draws us to the intersection of the double golden ratios in the lower-left: the intersection of the horizon line and the horizontal position of the afternoon sun. And the sun itself sits at the heard of another dominant feature: a triangle of trees. All these elements between them create depth that brings the scene alive.

A perfect calm.

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