Archive for the ‘ Breaking the rules ’ Category


Time to catch up with posting again, so here is a stunning piece of work from my Flickr friend Ethan, whose Burmese travels have produced a plethora of beautiful compositions.


There are three compositional techniques used within this shot, turning something serenely simple into a powerhouse of interest. Most obvious is the pairing of silhouette (the man in his boat) and layers (which is really a subtle form of silhouettes, where light is diffused in between the masking elements. The majesty of the landscape is given definition through the layers of hills that descend to the water’s edge, one so close that it is nearly as dark as the primary subject. And so the subject merges into the natural scenery; the man-made in harmony with its surroundings.

The third attribute is the golden ratios. These are not quite as obvious as one might expect, but fully appropriate to the scene: the boat between (but not quite reaching) primary and secondary horizontal, and sitting on the secondary vertical (yes, the boat, rather than the horizon). This interestingly puts two of the background peaks on the vertical primaries.

That the boat is between primary and secondary golden ration, moving out of the scene, breaks the rule that the subject should be entering the frame, but it also adds a sense of story; that this is a timeless life, repeated father to son for countless generations.

Wonderfully peaceful


Something Noir

Next up in this return to posting, a stunning piece of model lighting from my friend Andy Poupart. Providing the form, the seductive Julie.

It’s quite obvious from the outset that this image breaks compositional rules. Not only is Julie positioned between the primary and secondary golden rations on the right side, her body language is providing a definite sense of movement in that same direction – through and out of the frame. And yet, the pose works powerfully in combination with the lighting and black and white processing.

In part, this is to do with the smooth yet powerful contrast across her features. Also, it is aided by the rough texture of the wall which acts as counterpoint to Julie’s soft form. That the lighting is clearly brighter out-of-frame to the right also helps provide validation for the sense of direction – dark an wild as she is, she cannot resist the light.

But the strongest element that allows the breaking of the rules to work is the arm that anchors the whole in the bottom left corner. It provides not only the anchor, but also a leading line and solid diagonal, as well as being one side of the most prominent triangle in the composition.

Another clear masterpiece.


It’s been a little while since my Flickr friend Ethan (cormend) last featured herein, but his Burmese adventure continues to provide some spectacular shots.

Aquaculture (V)

Something of a classic – shot many times by others – this is a powerful example of simplicity. The scene is well known: a life aboard a small boat, working the waters to survive. But not every example of this scene balances the elements so well. Here, there is little more than a boat spanning the width of the frame, sitting on the upper golden ratio line with a sea of patterned negative space as a lead-in, but it is that very simplicity that makes it work. It is the placement of the fisherman on the secondary golden ratio, facing out of the scene, that strengthens that sense of emptiness, giving the impression that he is all alone in an infinitely large world. (Yes, I know, there are the other ships on the horizon, but they are more mirage than real.)

The casting of the scene into silhouette also serves to make it more impersonal: we, the viewers, may be able to observe and empathise, but we are not a part of the scene; we cannot be a part of his world.

There is one additional detail in this shot that is a very effective extra: the triangular curve of reflected sunlight off the nearest wavelets – an anchor that suggests the distance may not be quite as uncrossable as the rest of the scene implies.

Serene yet strong.

PS, I love you

After a bit of a break, it’s time for the return of one of my favourite photographers: Aftab Uzzaman.

PS, I love you.

It’s not every day that I would pick out selective desaturation as a composition-enhancing technique. This work of Aftab’s, however, breaks many moulds. It does not emphasise the subject by placing it artfully on a golden ratio, but instead relies on the starkness of the red capturing our attention. In this, it succeeds well: the interplay between the drop readying to be released and its own effect within the clearness of the water – both cause and effect – hoards all attention.

It take quite an effort of will to look beyond the blindingly obvious to the other compositional elements that come into play. The easiest to discern is the use of negative space: in a world of black and white where colour is king, and there is so vibrant a dash of it, everything else – the entire greyscale scene – counts as negative space. Within this emptiness, we can then find the smooth contrast that defines the bottle, and its placement anchored within the corner. Also of interest is the depth of field employed: while the bottle may be sharp, the front of the glass is out of focus, with only the diffusing pattern of the wine within offering any sense of real clarity.

A most interesting still life.


Every once in a while, Lorraine Anderson reappears on Flickr and posts something dramatic. This time, it is a floral abstract.

Iris 2

This image is very simple in its composition: a soft sea of purple traced with veins (a pattern/texture), cut through with a vibrant dash of yellow. It is tightly cropped, making it abstract. There is direction, and there is undulation in the sinuous curves of the petals: yes, there is an S-curve into the plane of the image; and though we see only two dimensions, the shading and slight loss of focus around the edges makes it clear that there is a descent over on the right side.

The positioning of the streak of brightness is excellent, vertically on the golden ration and horizontally just reaching out to the tertiary where it disappears – heading out of the frame, which works largely because of the touches of green which anchor the destination from either side.

Artful flowers are all the rage, it would seem.

Just Fog and Dennis

Hot on the heels of Lorraine Anderson‘s last post to make it into this blog – posted, as it happens, on the same day – we have this

Just Fog and Dennis

This is an interesting silhouette image, in that the dark subject manages to be the centre of attention, where it is generally the brighter parts of an image that are of the most interest. In this case, it is because there is detail within Dennis’ outline (and the tripod), and because the expanse of blue and white negative space is so gentle in its transitions. Additionally, the foreground being silhouetted into the corner as an anchor, accompanied by the horizon acting as a leading line (the combination giving us a triangular pointer), direct our attention over to that figure.

Interestingly, it is perhaps a combination of double golden ratio placement, and out-of-the-frame direction – that Dennis appears to be taking his picture of something we cannot see instead of the early morning fog – that clinches the composition.

Simple drama, with added mystery.


It’s been over a month since Ananya Rubayat (dream_maze)’s last image that was picked up here, and this newest is following the minimalist theme of recent posts.


The second rule of image composition: never centre your subject. The first: all rules are available for breaking if you understand why. This is a beautiful example of the first rule in action: a small subject smack in the middle of the frame. And it works. The key, of course, is that the actual subject – the bird – is only the tip of the story. With everything in stark silhouette, the entire triangular supporting structure is the compositional subject, within a sea of soft pastel space.

This double view in the subject provides, in its internal structure, both anchoring and leading lines. While the balance of the subject centring is fooled by it all being black outline, the inner pattern clearly moves the eye to the bird. It is compositionally directional (but without any sense of movement).

Simple and zen-like. Peaceful. Powerful.

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