Part Two: Elements of Design


This Part consists of nine exercises of nearly 40 photographs all with the emphasis on the various elements that go into the makeup of the design of the image.


Exercise #15: Positioning a Point (3 photos)


In each of the above photographs, I have included a single point of focus: the sign, the bushbuck, the buoy and the seagull. They are all small within the frame and to varying degrees contrast with the surroundings. In this regard the buck to some degree blends in with the background, but then this is what happens in nature. Two of the images have the subject in the centre, one of the images with the bushbuck and one with the seagull. Both are less effective than the paired images where the subject is closer to the side. In both images the bushbuck and the seagull are looking or moving into the image, which makes them more effective.

The image of the sign, I deliberately wanted to show this single sign in an open space of sand with the wind whipping up sand and blowing it along the surface. I think that this works although the positions of the horizon and the white band in the sign are a little distracting.

The red buoy in the sea also works quite well and leaves one wondering what the shadow is below the surface.

The image of the leaf makes me feel disconcerted as although it has some lines leading to it, I believe it is too close to the edge and is highly imbalanced.

The three that I believe work best are the sign, the bushbuck looking into the frame and the seagull flying into the free space.


Exercise #16: Relationship between Points (3 photos)

Where there are two points the relationship is between the points rather than between the frame and the point where there is only a single point.  The eye is drawn between the points creating an implied line.  Typically a more dominant point attract more attention than the other, but a close-up of a persons eyes results in a case where each point attracts equal attention.

Well, here we have our two eyes but not perfect. The left eye (on our RHS) is slightly lighter than the right eye and to me that makes it more dominant. This may be because it is a little lighter in the iris ad so one has a tendency to focus on it more.

Above are demonstrated four (plus a cropped version of one) very different photographs for two points of focus:

i)               The industrial chimneys are backlit by the early morning sun and did not work as well as I thought it should.  Cropping right in and using the chimneys only is better but one still tends to look more widely including the detail in the steam.

ii)              In the second one of the two waterbuck one tends to look at the one with its head up more than at the one with its head down.  However, this probably does result in the desired effect of pulling the eye between two subjects.

iii)            The two people in the distance on the beach are probably not dominant enough especially when compared with the foreground.

iv)             The two red billed Oxpeckers are not too bad although once again maybe there is too much extraneous information in the picture.  I do see an imaginary line between the eyes of the two birds.  This is diagonal so is a bit more dynamic than what is more horizontal in the picture on the beach.

The article about Chris Woolgar’s photograph of two points was also timely and provided food for thought.  Also, his comment, “I am an engineer: I can take a car apart but not a photograph”, resonated with me.  I am reading John Berger’s Ways of Seeing and Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ at the moment and can say quite emphatically that I am still in kindergarten when it comes to reading photographs and recognising metaphor.

Another interesting article for me was the ‘Taming St George’ on WeAreOCA[1].  This provided an alternative interpretation to the normal one of St. George slaying the dragon to save the maiden in distress but one where a man interrupts the lady who is fully in control of the situation.  See Saint George and the Dragon.  I would certainly never have arrived at this interpretation being too indoctrinated into the traditional one.

This was an interesting exercise in making me look for two points of focus, but led to much more.

It has raised my awareness in having to looking harder and deeper.  As I say above I have only just had this awareness raised and so actually achieving this will have to be practised and hopefully at some time in the future I will be able to read photographs.



Exercise #17: Multiple Points (6 photos)

Set up a still life with 6 to 10 objects adding one at a time.  In the final photograph draw a sketch showing the lines that relate the objects.

I have started this exercise with three images of naturally occurring ‘multiple points’.  Each of them has objects in a random configuration and one finds that the eye moves around the image in a similar random way.  In the image of the pebbles and shells on the beach there is some tendency to focus on the larger pebble centrally situated.  In the photograph of the ducks the central one also seems to pull the eye a bit more.


Exercise #18: Horizontal and Vertical Lines (8 photos)

When I set out to look for examples of horizontal and vertical lines I found that I started to recognise these in various scenes.  In some there were both and looking at the course notes one sees this in them too, not always but quite often.  Also, sometimes there is a diagonal or curved element too.  What is, I suppose more important, is that the vertical or horizontal line should be dominant.  The photograph of the logs provided a definite horizontal image.  I deliberately tried to get quite close yet to maintain some elements of the scene behind.  In the landscape image the horizontal lines formed by boundaries to fields and the tree lines made a pleasing image to demonstrate this element.  Of course the horizon also provides a semi horizontal line as the hills provide some curvature and the trees tend to break it up a bit.

To some degree vertical lines seemed to strike me first. The trees at the edge of the field provided a strong vertical element but on reflection, the horizontal line made by the edge of the field is just as striking. Similarly, with the red flag on the beach, where the flagpole was meant to be the vertical, I find the rocks and horizon in this image provide a strong horizontal element too. The aspect of horizontal lines bringing stability is clear in this image. The tall dark trees are firmly based on the lighter foundation.
I think that the image of the flag could have been improved by being closer to the flag with a wider angle lens and looking up more.

I took a variety of images of corn against the sky to obtain a strong vertical component without any other extraneous data – i.e. against a clear background. This image does that but I wonder about the balance in the photograph. I like the simplicity in the image and think that although there is a central stem the diagonal one and the one on the right bring some degree of balance.

While walking in the fields I recognised the opportunity of taking an image from a very low perspective to capture the lines left after the harvest. In a similar way to a road from a high aspect capturing a photograph from a low point of view provides vertical lines in the photograph. One could, of course, argue that these are implied triangles but certainly the dominant lines along the axis of the camera I would argue are vertical. Once more the horizontal elements are there too.

In these final two images I like all the elements. The edge of the building provides a strong vertical, especially with the white against the blue, the vertical doors and the vertical shadow of the security camera: lots of vertical elements. In the foreground, the pillars of the balustrade and the horizon bring in horizontal elements that are not quite as dominant. In the final image the fence posts and the line tree provide the vertical lines and a diagonal is formed by the receding fence.


Exercise #19: Diagonals (4 photos)

Some diagonals are easy to find such as roads, pathways and fences running into the distance.  Below are my examples of diagonals that are a little different.  The rainbow was taken to capture the rainbow itself but I feel that it provides a very good example of a diagonal in an image.  The little girl paying in the spray from the irrigation system is interesting as the water itself is a good diagonal, but when one considers this image carefully, the way in which the little girl leans forwards also creates a diagonal line going in the opposite direction whilst the imaginary line formed by the direction of her gaze also forms a diagonal line parallel to the water spout.  Her shoes also form a short diagonal line parallel to the water.  All in all this is an interesting image from the perspective of diagonals in the image.

In composing the image of the log on the deserted beach I was deliberately composing for the diagonal line. When viewing the image afterwards the sand forms a shallow diagonal running in the opposite direction whilst the horizon and the sand form a triangle.
Finally, the fence provides an example of a diagonal easily found and created using a fence or similar structure. Interestingly, in this image it is maybe not as prominent as the horizontal line formed by the grass at the base of the trees. However, the diagonal here provides the feeling of depth through the linear perspective to a vanishing point close to the left hand side of the image.


Exercise #20: Curves (4 photos)

On average I find curves more pleasing to the eye than the diagonals. The easy ones to find are the streams and roadways that often gracefully curve into the distance. My first picture below is in fact of a river as it exits to the sea. While walking along this deserted beach this curve presented itself and indeed makes an interesting image of a somewhat desolate area. The day was very bright and this was shot at 1/200 at f13.0 ISO100 using 24mm lens to exaggerate the perspective. The image may have been improved by having something in the foreground although I am not sure of that. The second image is inland and from a high point on a hillside overlooking the road gives a typical curved road image.

Now some slightly more interesting images of curves. I liked the way in which the field had been ploughed and planted creating an interesting curve with the uncultivated grass section. This curve creates more of a semicircle on the left compared with the more typical ‘s’ type curves. The arch of the Moses Madiba stadium here in Durban is another interesting curved structure. I debated using this as a ‘diagonal’ but eventually felt that it was better as a curve.

The ebb and flow of the waves as they came onto the beach created a number of interesting curves. The edge of the foam on the sand forms a ‘S’ curve and the foam ridge forms a curve circling round to the top of the image.

Now for some completely different curves and I am not sure how to interpret these. I took this photograph of this buffalo on 29 Feb 2012 in Umfolozi Game Reserve using a 400mm lens handheld. (1/640, f5.6, ISO200) specifically trying to emphasise the curvature of his horns. How does this stack up? He is looking directly at the camera but is really not concerned. His horns are definitely curved but being equal on either side are balanced. I do not think that the curves in this instance create the same dynamic as the others illustrated above, but do create a dynamic image. To some degree I think that it has the same effect as the close up of two eyes. In this image one is not quite sure which side to focus on!


Exercise #21: Implied Lines (2 photos)

Although the exercise only calls for two photographs I have included a few more.  This is primarily because the extras are some that I had in my library that I thought illustrated the point well.

The cyclist, my son, has an implied line in the forward direction of the bicycle, but also, the direction he is looking i.e. towards me the photographer. The forward direction in reinforced by the arrow on the road – fortuitous!
The cut out black cat also has two implied lines. Firstly, the direction he is going, up the steps, and secondly, he is looking at me. The diagonal created by the base of the balustrade creates the impression of the steps going up, enhancing the upward direction of the cat.

This image is the top of Mont Blanc in France. I was trying to capture the pinnacle against the deep blue sky. The image has not been enhanced and no filters were used, this sky up there was a deep blue. The tall thin copper tower pointing heavenwards but based on rock has a direct vertical line but I think has an implied continued direction into space.

Talking and looking at somebody clearly creates an implied line.  To what extent the fact that the second person is not in the photograph detracts from the photograph, I am not sure.  IN some ways it makes me ponder about what he is saying to whom.

The barrow in the snow I liked as it is similar to the bicycle one in that it has an implied forward direction even though it is going nowhere at the moment.

Although I have some examples of implied lines, I will have to continue to look for these actively when making photographs.


Exercise #22: Real and Implied Triangles (6 photos)

A triangle is the simplest shape as it has the minimum number of sides needed to create an enclosed shape.  The sides also form diagonals which induce a sense of movement, tension and activity into the image.

Firstly, real triangles – these are images of things whose edges create a triangular shape.

These three images provide examples of real triangles. The metal beams forming the bridge, the apex of the roof of the pub and the shapes of the umbrellas in the distance.

The next three images all form imaginary triangles. The second and third are a bit similar as they are formed by parallel lines receding into the distance.
In the first image a strong imaginary triangle is formed by the holes in the old piece of farm machinery. It may even be interpreted as a face with two eyes and a round mouth.


Exercise #23: Rhythms and Patterns (2 photos)

This photograph contains a couple of elements: curves and rhythm. However, to me the more dominant is the rhythm produced by the apexes on the roof and the vertical windows.

I have included this version of the Moses Mabida stadium too as I also considered this for the rhythm. However, I felt that there was too much extraneous information in the photograph.

Rhythm as expressed in the repetitive nature of the windows on the different floor levels. The man standing in the second from top however breaks the rhythm and brings some dynamic tension to this photograph by breaking the vertical column that separates the two windowpanes in the arch.

Is this pattern or rhythm? I believe the former due to the large red umbrella that breaks the rhythm. There are also the patterned tiles, which are, I believe, too detailed in the photograph to create rhythm – so pattern it is.

Here is another image that maybe presents a pattern better than the previous one. There is no order to the position of the impala; it is random. Looking closely one could at a stretch say that there is some rhythm in the positioning of their ears but it fits the definition of pattern far better.


1 Response to Part Two: Elements of Design

  1. Pingback: Exercises for Part 2 « dougslr

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