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The Rules of Composition

The Rules of Composition
'Photography is not a sport. It has no rules. Everything must be dared and tried.'  Bill Brandt


I am an advocate of the Bill Brandt philosophy on rules in photography and my pet hate is the Rule of Thirds.

However telling everyone that the rules propagated in magazines and books on photography are not much use and just show you how to produce pictures that look like everyone else’s is not much help.
So how does one learn about composition if looking at magazines or reading rules just gets you stuck in a rut or gets you producing what everyone else produces?

This is the difficult bit, I don’t think there are any quick fixes or short cuts. Photography is just like many other hobbies involving skill, it takes time and effort to improve and master.

Firstly why do you want to take pictures? The reason that I ask that is my advice only applies if you wish to get enjoyment from producing images that you like and develop your own style. If you want to satisfy camera club judges then obey the rules, listen to what they say and endlessly pursue their contrary views.

These are the things that I believe that will help you on your road of discovery and development.

Firstly you are reading this and therefore you have web access. The web gives you access to millions of images from Masters through the Good but variable and on to the Bad and very variable. Surf the web and just look at images, develop your taste, work out why you like an image or dislike it. The more that you look at images the more you should develop your own taste. Some of the sites available do allow comment/critique but be cautious as the quality of some critiquing is poor.

I read Lenswork because it talks about images, not cameras.
 
I like photography, I like looking at images not cameras.

I like food, I go to restaurants, I don't study saucepans.

I like architecture, I look at buildings, not cement mixers.

I like art, I go to galleries, I don't look at catalogues of paint brushes..

I like music, I listen to my iPod, I don't worry about the make of instruments.

Why do we permit the view to prevail that your equipment is important? 

Find a magazine that just looks at the work of photographers.

Visit exhibitions of photography, from club photographers through to international celebrity photographers and develop the taste of what you like. Try to figure out what it is in the images you like. Talk to other photographers about what you like and have seen.

Take pictures! With modern digital cameras images are virtually free. Look through your viewfinder, move yourself around until you SEE something in the viewfinder that appeals to you and your developing taste, only then, click.

Critique your own work, assess it against the the images you like, discuss your images with others. Work on the things you like, discard those you don’t. Find a website where you can post your images and get good critiques. 

Enter club competitions but do not chase the views of judges, listen to what they say but consider it against your developing opinion.
 
Using these tools you should start to get a feel for your style but be careful that you continue to explore the domain as a STYLE can become a rut.
 
Oh and on the rule of thirds, my comment is, don’t stick it in the middle unless you mean to for dramatic effect or impact.
Remember there are no short cuts, there is no end, it is an endless road of learning. Explore the domain and above all, enjoy yourself.

As Anne says, break the rules!

Rex Jan 2011

Quotes

Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph. - Matt Hardy

Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop. - Ansel Adams

If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up. - Garry Winogrand

BEWARE
Robo-snapper learns how to take the perfect photo!
PAPARAZZI could soon be fighting for their jobs with robots that can take aesthetically pleasing photos. 
To create such a robot, Raghudeep Gadde, a computer scientist at the International Institute of Information Technology in Hydrabald, India, turned to a humanoid robot called NAO that is equipped with a head·mounted camera. He and his team have programmed NAO to obey two simple photographic guidelines known as the rule of thirds and the golden ratio. 
The former states that an image should be divided into three, both vertically and horizontally, with interesting features placed where the dividing lines cross. The latter suggests the horizon line should divide a photo into two rectangles with the larger being 1.62 times the size of the smaller - the golden ratio. 
The robot is also programmed to assess the quality of its photos by rating focus. lighting and colour. The researchers taught it what makes a great photo by analysing the top and bottom 10 per cent of 60,000 images from a website hosting a photography contest. as rated by humans. 
Armed with this knowledge. the robot can take photos when told to, then determine their quality. If the image scores below a certain quality threshold, the robot automatically makes another attempt. It improves on the first shot by working out the photo's deviation from the guidelines and making the appropriate correction to its camera's orientation. Gadde, who will present the research at an artificial intelligence conference in Barcelona, Spain, this month, says this makes the system very flexible. "Earlier photographer robot systems are predominantly limited to capturing photographs of humans", he says, because they rely on face or skin colour detection. "Our approach is generic and does not rely on the subject of the image being captured." 
Bill Smart of Washington University in St Louis, who has also built a robot photographer, says the approach is all improvement on previous attempts. But robots still can't match human photographers because they can't recognise points of interest, he adds. "Good compositions in photographs have interesting things in them, and there's no such thing as all 'interesting thing detector'." Gadde's system could be used to take formulaic photos that all follow certain rules. such as actors' headshots, he says. 
Jacob Aron. 


Let sweet music help you frame the perfect snap?

CAN'T take a decent photo? Never fear. A smartphone app that uses music to help you frame the perfect shot should do the trick.

Due to be launched in February, LightSounds was developed by Jose san Pedro at the Barcelona research lab of Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica. It plays sad music when you frame a photo badly but shifts to a happier melody when you adjust to get it just right. San Pedro chose to guide the framing using musical output so as to help visually impaired users as well as amateur snappers.

The app recognises what makes a good photo in two ways. First it was programmed with the photographer's "rule of thirds", which states that a scene should be divided into a grid of nine and objects of interest placed at the intersections. Then an AI algorithm analysed 100,000 photos that users of photo sites had voted as being high quality to work out the elements that made a good photo, such as exposure and composition. This was converted into aesthetic rules for the app.

When a picture is badly framed an electronically generated tune plays in a minor scale to encourage users to reframe, gradually moving up in pitch until a major scale is reached, indicating that the photo is framed correctly. When faces are in shot more harmonies are added to the melody. San Pedro presented the app at a multimedia conference in Barcelona last month.

"The minor scale is melancholic and gloomy but the major scale evokes happiness and joy - and that's emphasised by the pitch changing from low to high," san Pedro says.

"The app shifts from sad music to a happier melody as you adjust a photo to frame it just right"


Paul Marks.
NewScientist 23 November 2013