View Full Version : Composition 101... Or why I love Ron's Grazing Horses

06-08-2002, 11:47 AM
Ron's grazing horses (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=45809) brings up an interesting concept about composition. When I first saw this image posted in color a huge light bulb lit up my head.

I like it when there is a pleasing division of space, following the golden mean, or the law of thirds. Simple enough to do in the 2D picture plane. Make sure your subject is placed 1/3rd of the way in from the border (left, right, top or bottom.) Represented by the red boxes.


However, when I saw this image of Ron's I realized I should be applying this rule to the 3d space before me as well.


See why Ron's image is a perfect example of this theory in action?


Just a liitle something to keep in mind. Thanks, Ron. I've learned so much from you.

06-08-2002, 12:34 PM
Thanks, Anne. That's a very clear and interesting presentation here. I'm sure others, as well as myself appreciate your efforts and clear explanation. There is nothing like returning to the basics to reestablish perspective on how to approach things.

I know, in my case, I frequently sit and look at a scene or walk around a scene for a considerable time long before I ever set up my camera (if I even do). That shot of the three horses is a good example of "thinking" about a picture.

I've driven by that farm on the highway dozens of times in my various "treks" looking for things I may find interesting to shoot. I have seen those horses grazing in different parts of that pasture land and loved the rolling landscape and general environment there. I would always keep an eye on the time of day, where the light is coming from and making mental notes of when I wanted to return to take some photos. I do that with most scenes that I think I may wish to photograph. I always check time of day, weather conditions and wind to see what and when I want to photograph something.

The good thing is that some subjects are made to be photographed in many different lighting and weather conditions. I make mental notes of varying moods I can convey by shooting at different times in different ways. It's surprising how one scene can take on so many variations by returning to a site under different conditions. This system only works for locations which are easily accessed and can be visited on a frequent basis. I can't use this approach when I'm photograhing yaks in Nepal. ;)

Since this posting seems to be a worthwhile tutorial, I thought I would add my "seven cents" (prices are high these days) to your excellent explanation of the rule of thirds. Thanks for the nudge to consider the basics.



06-08-2002, 03:43 PM
Thanks for the diagram. I knew the horses looked good, but didn't know why. Today, I was by a lake looking around and nothing 'clicked' (including my camera). Then I took a couple of photos anyway and left.

I think, if I'd seen this diagram before I'd left I might have found something in the shapes I was looking at.

Great thread. RATING IT UP.

06-08-2002, 04:43 PM
Ron's photo is terrific. It made me smile when I saw it because the horses seem to be trying to give a lesson in perspective!

I must admit that I would not use this composition in a painting because the horses are too evenly spaced, IMHO. But that is exactly what made me smile at the photo.


Anthony Carter
06-08-2002, 08:43 PM
Great explanation of the law of thirds by Anne and a wonderful photo by Ron!

06-09-2002, 07:19 AM
Great explanation Anne. On my next Photoexpedition I think I'll have a play by the rules day and see how I do. It'll be like being back in Catholic school where you always played by the rules (or else!!) :D

06-16-2006, 01:32 PM
Update for 2006:
If I had it to do over again, I'd say forget the rule of thirds! I don't even think about it when I'm shooting. Shoot from the heart is my only rule. If something is pleasing after the fact because it fits into some sort of rule then people assume it's the rule that holds the magic.

06-16-2006, 01:33 PM
Update for 2006:
If I had it to do over again, I'd say forget the rule of thirds! I don't even think about it when I'm shooting. Shoot from the heart is my only rule. If something is pleasing after the fact, because it fits into some sort of rule, then people assume it's the rule that holds the magic.

Here's an excerpt from an excellent article by Edward Weston (http://elmo.academyart.edu/study/ph101/Required%20reading/Weston%20Not%20pictorial.htm)

"...Now to consult rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk. Such rules and laws are deduced from the accomplished fact; they are the products of reflection and after-examination, and are in no way a part of the creative impetus. When subject matter is forced to fit into preconceived patterns, there can be no freshness of vision. Following rules of composition can only lead to a tedious repetition of pictorial cliches.

Good composition is only the strongest way of seeing the subject. It cannot be taught because, like all creative effort, it is a matter of personal growth. In common with other artists the photographer wants his finished print to convey to others his own response to his subject. In the fulfillment of this aim, his greatest asset is the directness of the process he employs. But this advantage can only be retained if he simplifies his equipment and technique to the minimum necessary, and keeps his approach free from all formula, art-dogma, rules, and taboos. Only then can he be free to put his photographic sight to use in discovering and revealing the nature of the world he lives in."

06-16-2006, 06:07 PM
Anne it may be true that you do not "think" about the rule of thirds or any other compositional rules but you probably have them subconsciously in your mind. If you look at things in your viewfinder I think you can make value judgement on whether it is compositionally good. Does it please the eye etc ....
The trick is to look through the viewfinder to make these judgements as it automatically brings into our eye what will be in the photograph, away from that we see too much of the big picture.
A lot of the older photographers (and painters) used to carry a piece of cardboard with a rectangle cut out through which they used to survey the scene to see what would be best to photograph or paint. We can use the LCD's or Viewfinders in the same way.

Kevin M
06-27-2006, 02:47 AM
The best you can do by way of a 'rule' is strive for balance in a finished image. If you live by the rule-of-thirds in landscape photography you will end up with very few pictures. If it happens to fit the rule - well and good - more often it does not. For example - the sky is an essential component of the landscape - and cropping it (or the foreground) to fit a rule - is a sort of self-imposed censorship. Hopefully, you will record what you see - and the only constraints are - the field-of-view of your lens or where you choose to stand.

Photographers on making photographs:

Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk.
-Edward Weston

There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.
-Ansel Adams

There are no rules and regulations for perfect composition. If there were we would be able to put all the information into a computer and would come out with a masterpiece. We know that's impossible. You have to compose by the seat of your pants.
-Arnold Newman

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

A good photograph is knowing where to stand.
-Ansel Adams

If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough.
-Robert Capa

Keep it simple.
-Alfred Eisenstaedt

I am not very interested in extraordinary angles. They can be effective on certain occasions, but I do not feel the necessity for them in my own work. Indeed, I feel the simplest approach can often be most effective. A subject placed squarely in the centre of the frame, if attention is not distracted from it by fussy surroundings, has a simple dignity which makes it all the more impressive.
-Bill Brandt,

All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.
-Richard Avedon

Every time someone tells me how sharp my photos are, I assume that it isn't a very interesting photograph. If it was, they would have more to say.

Unlike a painter, a photographer starts with something finished and works backward.

06-27-2006, 03:28 AM
Very well put Kevin.