Welcome to another edition of Let’s Talk Photography! As we move from one topic to the next, you’ll find me bouncing between basic camera information for beginners and more advanced topics for those of us “photo nerds” out there. I want to maintain interest for as many photo enthusiasts as possible. This topic, however, applies to everyone and it deals with composing your photographs to make them more interesting.
Composition is important because it gives your photograph life. You never look at the world centered directly in front of you, and you should take that into consideration when setting up your shots. So, what makes a good composition? There are several “rules” and steps that go into making an interesting photo, but it’s really all about the focal point of the subject and how the elements of the image force your eye to see exactly what you intended to be that focal point.
The first rule that you will get beaten into your brain once you start studying or learning photography is the Rule of Thirds. This is a very basic rule and, when put into practice, it creates an interesting difference in your photos. The Rule of Thirds suggests that you should look at your photo as if it’s separated into thirds both vertically and horizontally. Think of a tic-tac-toe game. You’ll have three squares on the top row, three squares in the middle row and three squares on the bottom row.
The idea behind the rule of thirds is that you should place your subject somewhere along the guide lines of your tic-tac-toe board or put the focal point on top of one of the intersecting points (the corners of the center box) in order to draw the eye to the subject. This rule also dictates that you put the horizon on either the top or bottom guide line. When using this rule, the center of the image is forbidden. Well, unless you attend a seminar and listen to a professional photographer talk about composition, then they will tell you that “some rules are made to be broken” or “it’s good to know the rules first, then learn when and why to break them.”
I happen to agree that with some photos, you’ll see a very visual difference when you apply this rule. Taking into consideration the photo above, you’ll notice that I was able to capture the shot with the rider in the top right of the frame and off to the right side of the photo. By doing this, I was able to give the photo the sense of motion through the frame and the perception of height. I kept myself low to the ground so that I would be shooting upward and getting a lot of the ceiling in the shot to show how high the rider was traveling off the ramp. Give this a try, and you’ll find that sometimes, taking things off center can be more visually interesting.
And now, just as quickly as I introduced you to that rule, I’m going to ask you to forget it. Hold on, don’t call me a kook just yet.
This image happened to be my absolute favorite of all the images I shot at the Gateway Center. I’ve been recently studying something called Dynamic Symmetry which contains way too many principals for me to explain in one article, so I’ll touch on it little by little as we go along.
Dynamic Symmetry can be found in some of the greatest works of art and has been put into practice to create and compose some of the most visually attractive photos and paintings. It deals with triangles that create a more complex set of guide lines for you to follow when setting up your image. Now, in this case, I confess I didn’t know about it when the image was taken, however, when I lay a simple dynamic symmetry guide (this one is called a 1.5 armature, or root 1.5 triangle) you can see that the image follows this symmetry as if it were on purpose. His legs follow two of the guides, the line at the top of the ramp follows another, the back tire is setting perfectly atop the lower horizontal line and directly to the left of the left vertical line and his front tire sits right on top of the upper horizontal line and directly to the right of the right vertical line, his black gloves and black front tire all follow a different guide line and his left hand and left foot are both sitting directly on top of intersecting lines.
As I mentioned, I didn’t intend for this to happen at the time, but I truly believe that this explains why I absolutely love this image.
I know - that was a lot of geometry, but these are some of the concepts that will give your photography an edge over others. I encourage you to go straight to the Internet and start searching for Dynamic Symmetry in photography and learn more about the different principals. It’s fascinating to see how lines, angles, areas of contrast, curvilinear elements, negative space, and many other factors can create a stunning photograph. Of course, I’m more of a snap shooter that happens to get some of these things right by accident, and I think that’s pretty darn good. The point is, you always want to strive to learn something new in order to open creative doors that will keep you interested in a your hobbies. If you don’t, you’ll find your camera gathering dust because you’ve lost interest in the art of photography.
"James Cowman's user's guide on composition and Dynamic Symmetry, in particular, was one of the greatest milestones on my journey of becoming a better artist. Dynamicsymmetryart.com is undoubtedly the best resource on the subject out there, which I keep recommending to anyone interested in taking their compositions to a new level. It shocks me that even otherwise excellent artists today often know nothing about these old systems and rely mostly on their intuition to create their compositions. It's time that artists rediscover and revive the lost knowledge of the old masters and bring art back to its former glory. Jame's user's guide is a unique and invaluable resource in this effort." - Storm Engineer
"Jim offers something that is almost impossible to find online: a truly one-of-a-kind resource. His information about Dynamic Symmetry is meticulously researched and comes from a place of knowledge and genuine interest, not sales, as so many educational sites do. Reading his surprisingly accessible work has helped me to grow artistically in a deliberate and satisfying way. I return to Dynamic Symmetry Art regularly and always learn something new." - Rebecca Isenhart
"The information provided in The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist has been a tremendous resource for me as an artist and photographer. My photography work has improved tremendously, and all of my clients agree! I'll continue to share this user's guide with all of my peers and other creative artists." - Zine Massey
"I just graduated from the BFA in Graphic Design at the Federal University of Pernambuco, in Brazil, and one of the chapters of my monograph was about composition. As a motion designer, the proper layout of elements is a very important phase in my creative process, so any tool that helps with making decisions on that is very valuable. What I love about your studies is that it's full of images and resources, it's a gold mine in my opinion. Thanks for providing so much information at an affordable price." - Eveline Falcão
"The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist deserves to be a physical book in Barnes & Noble & on my coffee table!" - Elliot McGucken
"The Art of Composition: A Dynamic Symmetry User's Guide for the Modern Artist is, without a doubt, one of the most comprehensive e-books ever written on the topic of design in art. Whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced art/photography student, this user's guide is indispensable. I recommend it to all of my artists and photographers and have it linked to my website The Artist Angle." - Jennifer Finley "Though I am not a newcomer to photography, I am far from being a professional. So too, it has only been in the past few months that I discovered dynamicsymmetryart.com. I was transformed from being concerned with camera equipment, f-stops, shutter speed, ISO to considering how I would apply the principles of classical art training to my photography.
As I began reading about the old world masters, including da Vinci, Degas, Rembrandt, and Renoir, I learned that Dynamic Symmetry structurally changed paintings from being passive to active and dynamic. Furthermore, I didn’t realize that a small, yet renowned, group of photographers were well known for using Dynamic Symmetry in their photographs of city life and people. My journey began by reading. The Dynamic Symmetry Art website has numerous resources that gave me a crash course in art and composition. I had to learn about the visual properties of different kinds of rectangles and how each can be divided into compositional elements. Then I began using the Dynamic Symmetry grid overlays in Lightroom to analyze and crop my photos. I have found dynamicsymmetryart.com extremely beneficial, and it has contributed immensely with my efforts to improve as a photographer. Thank you for your commitment to art and art education." - Warren Wish
"With the passing of Myron Barnstone, we lost a great resource on the application of the Rectangles of the Masters and the Golden Section in creating art. But the website dynamicsymmetryart.com is carrying on that work Myron so thoroughly believed in and taught. Dynamic Symmetry can be used in the simplest of ways as well as being infinitely complex if one desires. Great minds such as Leonardo da Vinci recognized the power that this compositional tool offers. Dynamicsymmetryart.com is an amazing reference for artists who are open to exploring the benefits of using Dynamic Symmetry in their work. It applies to all the arts and resonates at a primal level of understanding harmony and beauty. Much thanks to James Cowman for his dedication to furthering this information to the public." - Master Artist and Teacher, Dot Bunn, Red Stone Farm Studio