Monday, November 2, 2009

Leading Lines: Good Composition Starts Here

Congratulations to Julia and Josh! They will be tying the knot in 2010; this image was taken from their engagement session. To view more visit the online ordering portion of Irene Jones Photography Online. Select the session for Julia and Josh and enter password 21366.

For me this was an obvious favorite from their shoot for a few reasons, I love the shadow of the railing on the dock cast behind them, the sun reflecting off the water, and the slight perspective and angle created by the wide angle lens used to photograph this couple.
The best compositions are the ones that direct the attention of the viewer to your subject again and again. This is done by appealing to the part of our brains that looks for geometric shapes. By creating compositions that move the eye of the viewer in a pattern such as a triangle. circle, or pattern of lines, you hold the attention of the audience. Also the couple is positioned ever so slightly off center and to the right thanks to a few degrees of camera tilt. This way the photograph is not perfectly symmetrical. Asymmetry can often provide visual interest and in photography is key to the rule of 3rds; which I'll talk about another day. The flair of the sun on the water directly behind the couple helps to also draw attention to them since your eye will automatically look to the brightest portion of an image first before your eye reads the shadows.

All of these elements combine to create an appealing  circular composition. Here's what I mean.
  1. Your eye starts at the top, where the sun hits the water.
  2. The longest shadow from the railing draws your gaze down and to the left. 
  3. From there your eye follows the planks for the wooden dock to the right and bottom of the frame.
  4. Then you look at the faces of our couple, the wind slightly blowing her hair, then on to the lines of the bench they are sitting on.
  5. From the bench your eye again moves to the shadow of the rail and back to the top where the process starts all over again. 
  By using lines, highlight, and shadow you create interest the image becomes more dynamic. These elements when applied correctly enhance and never detract from what you are trying to portray. There is a nice feeling of intimacy between these two because of how close they are sitting together and they look comfortable with one another which helps to convey a sense of love and togetherness. People viewing this image should think, "They look like they belong." As a portrait photographer that's my first and foremost goal; I need to send a message about the person(s) I'm photographing, especially in engagement sessions! I want the subjects to look comfortable together. For many guests and family members alike, the engagement photos that come with Save-the-Date cards or wedding announcements can be the first glimpse they have into the coming nuptials. This first impression can go a long way in explaining the connection between two people!

Now let's talk about the technical execution of this image. Like most of my work, this image is one of many examples of fill flash in daylight. (In case your wondering I'll be discussing this in depth later.)

To set up this image I had Josh and Julia sit on the bench together with the sun to their backs. This way they wouldn't be squinting into the bright reflection of the water or the sun that was about two hours away from setting behind them.

Then I positioned a Nikon SB-900 speed light on a light stand 90 degrees from the couple and 45 degrees from where I was standing. I turned my on camera flash to commander mode and fired the speed light in remote mode at full power; knowing very well I would need some serious flash to balance against the bright background. Here is a poorly drawn stick figure diagram of what I'm describing.

Many photographers dislike wide angle lenses in portraiture and they are afraid to get close to their subjects. That is not the case with me. Using my favorite lens, a Nikon 16-85mm. I stood about two feet away from Julia and Josh and used a focal length of 22mm. Because I do my best to build a rapport with each customer, I think I can capture more intimate moments without having to lug around a 300mm telephoto lens.

In the end the exposure was 1/125 @ F9 with +1 exposure compensation to make sure the shadows on their faces were minimized. All in a days work.

More on composition tomorrow when I'll talk about the rule of thirds and make more stick figure lighting diagrams much to the dismay of art teachers everywhere.

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