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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Photography for Dummies, By Dummies: Episode 11

Ever had a question about photography you wanted to ask, but felt it was too stupid? Now you can feel stupid in private instead!

Disclaimer: The following photos in this article are not my own, but acquired from easily available public forums of the internet and are used merely as examples of the concepts discussed in this article. I absolutely do not own the following images, nor do I claim to have personally shot the same. The following images have been copied and pasted directly from the internet with no editing or other forms of digital manipulation from me.

In light of my ridiculously busy schedule, I’ve not shared any articles of late. I’ve taken a good number of photos, but once again, I’ve failed to share any. Today, on my ‘Photography For Dummies’ segment, I would like to share a well-known concept of photography, which is often ignored when it comes to composition. In fact, many photographers do not even recognize it in photos. Today I am going to share a little on leading the viewer in your photographs.

We all have should have direction in life. Without this direction, we wander around aimlessly, without purpose. In this respect, people who lack direction end up having no interest in things that go in and about their lives. This simple analogy also refers to composition in photography. One of the reasons that people get bored of photos is because it lacks some direction or purpose. Often people often don’t know why they find a photo uninspiring, but sometimes, it is just because the viewers are not sure what they are supposed to look at. Does this make sense?

You’ve got to direct the viewer’s eyes, give them something to look at. Obviously you can’t do it for EVERY photograph you take, but you’ll have to keep this in mind from time to time when composing shots. Here are a few suggestions on leading the attention of the viewer.

Tight Focus and Blur

The first technique deals with a change in focus. It’s how our eyes naturally see the world, in thin, two dimensional slices at a time. This is in focus and that is out of focus. The screen you are reading this is in focus and the keyboard (or floor if you are reading this on a mobile device) is not. Couple that together with two eyes to give a three dimensional aspect to what we see and we now have a useful way to navigate our living room without kicking out on the coffee table.

The problem in photography comes when cameras are left to their own devices and choose for us. Many cameras will increase the aperture setting (higher f stop, smaller aperture, remember?) to bring more things into focus. Most cameras ‘think’ you want a lot of things in focus.

But the truth is, interesting photos have few things in focus at one time. And it’s important to remember this when taking a photo. Pick one thing to be your focal point and try to make it stand out from the rest of the scene. This can be done by increasing your aperture (decreasing the f stop number) to take advantage of a shallower depth of field. It also helps to get closer to your subject to also shallow up that depth of field.

In English?

By selecting a point in your composition, your subject, to be the point of interest in your photograph, you may want to enlarge the aperture (smaller f stop setting) and thus making that point of interest in-focus, and sharp. Everything else which is not on the same depth as the subject in point will be out-of-focus and blurry. That way, your eyes are naturally drawn towards the in-focus and sharp object, and you will by-pass the blurry stuff which are out-of-focus. Using this method, you are able to ‘direct’ the viewer’s attention by choosing what stays in focus and what is out-of-focus.

Observe the above photo - some portions of the watch were in-focus, making it sharp and clear. The rest of the photo is out-of-focus and blurry, telling us indirectly, what to look at.

Leading Lines

Leading Lines are just that: lines in your image that bring viewers to a particular point in your photography. These lines can also include windy roads, or even patterns, natural or otherwise, such as the grain of wood, fences. Even a persons arm can be a leading line! Roads are a classic leading line, giving viewers the impression that they are going somewhere. Take note that these leading lines can ‘lead’ to a subject matter or it may even lead to nowhere in particular. The point of it is to give the viewer something to look at, a direction if you will, to keep it interesting.

As an example, in the above photo, the rows of tulips form a line, which clearly leads towards the windmill in the back ground as the main subject.


One of the more simple tricks to leading your viewers is to give them space in the photo to move into. Don’t understand? Well our brain tends to work in a logical manner. If we see a picture of person walking and facing a particular direction, our brain tends to extrapolate his walking path – meaning we assume he is walking somewhere. Therefore, empty spaces in pictures help our brain to create small ‘stories’ to keep us interested. Allow me to explain:

If you have a blank canvas and you have a man placed at the bottom left corner, facing the centre of the frame. There is an automatic assumption that the subject (the “Man”) is walking straight towards the centre of the frame. On the other hand, if the same “Man” is facing the opposite direction, outside the frame, there is an automatic assumption that the “Man” is walking away from something.

Such assumptions create stories in our minds and keep us interested in a photograph because it ‘leads’ us into a point of interest in the photo.

Take for example the above picture. Here we see the subject matter who looks as if he is interested in something on the right of the frame. The viewer's attention is attracted to the subject matter, due to the empty space which gives us nothing to look at but for the subject matter. Plus it also gives off an air of mystery which gets us thinking what the Man is o interested in.

It’s important to remember these are only rules. And rules are made to be broken. But if you are just starting out in photography, learn to use these simple techniques first to add some instant attraction to your images, then venture out and let your artistic creativity take over your style.

To view other post in the Photography For Dummies Series, please click on the hyperlinks below

Episode 8: Photography myths

Episode 10: Bad Habits of Photographers

Thanks for viewing!

For those of you who like statistics:
Vital Stats for February: 1 posts 0 pics
Vital Stats So Far: 133 posts 5,370 pics

Disclaimer: The views published in the above photoblog are the author's and the author's alone. If readers are not agreeable with the above views, well, you can bugger-off. All rights are reserved for the the photos and/or articles itself. This article may be reproduced with permission for the author or private or public usage, or other forms of general mayhem. Any unauthorize usage of the images and/or article contained therein is expressly prohibited and violators will be prosecuted with the full force of Malaysian law applicable. Thank you for reading this disclaimer.

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