I have to be completely honest, I’ve been more excited about this portion than the others. Technical knowledge is necessary, of course. But I’ve seen some very sharp, well-exposed pictures that still make your eyes bleed. Why? Poor composition.
I’m going to begin by telling you a story about a picture:
On the right is my friend, Becky. A while back, she posted this picture on facebook, telling us how she and her friend wanted their picture in front of the Hollywood sign, so asked a passerby to take it for them. They hand the camera to a man walking his dog, have a friendly conversation about their visit, and then he leaves. And then they realize, “Whoa, we just met Steven Spielberg! And he took our picture!”
That’s not the story. The “story” is that, after she posted the picture on facebook with the story of how it was taken, multiple people – far too many – said, “Sorry, that couldn’t have been Spielberg, a professional would know that the faces go in the center of the picture.”
At which point I had a stroke, died, came back, screamed at the computer, and paced around the room to walk it off.
NO. No no no NO NO.
I don’t know where this common cultural misconception came from that faces belong in the middle of photographs, but it’s a lie from the pit of hell that needs to die in a fire.
Maybe that’s slightly dramatic, but I can’t overstate how many composition problems could be solved if everyone just stopped following that “rule.”
One of the reasons this is a bad, bad rule is that it almost automatically creates dead space – that is, space on the photograph that does not help tell your story. It just….is there. If you could crop the picture down and not lose anything, it’s dead space. Example:
Notice how the watermark is right over our faces? That’s because our faces are dead in the center of the picture. And what’s above us? Basically nothing. But there are me, SoldierMan, my parents, and his mother: a great picture of us all together, except for the fact that our bottom halves are missing for the sake of
displaying the awesome architecture having our faces in the middle of the picture. We’re all dressed up and all you can see are our tops. Another example:
Again, watermark over the faces, and lots of dead space all around us. Yes, you could maybe justify it by saying that we were trying to get the garland in the picture. And we were, I think. But that was unnecessary. No one cares about the garland or the ugly Centennial Club walls. Compose that stuff outta there and leave the focus on the people.
Look up at the picture of Becky again. Yeah, her face is on the middle latitudinally, but they aren’t in the “dead” center of the picture. Why? Because the photographer knew that the story wasn’t “Becky and friend with some land in the background.” It was “Becky and friend in Hollywood.” So he set them along the right third of the picture, and the Hollywood sign along the left third, and voila, story told, no caption necessary. Except for the part about Steven Spielberg taking the picture. Which he obviously did. Because it is composed well. You can even crop that picture for Instagram and not lose the story.
Now, of course, for every rule, there are exceptions. What are the exception to the “no faces in the center/no dead space” rule?
Well, as in Becky’s case, showcasing the location of a shot means you need background information. Her picture held important background information: the Hollywood sign. My two pictures did not. There was nothing necessary in the background of those pictures regarding location. Therefore: dead space. Cut it.
Also, macro shots. If you’re shooting a macro/detail/head shot, then yes, I think it’s okay to have the focal point of your picture in the center. Because the subject is the entire picture. And there is no dead space.
There we go, my epic rant on dead space and why I hate it. And the “faces in the center” rule. Next time we’ll talk about another aspect of composition: cropping and creating lines.