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Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 1998): Visual Eyes

column guide photography cameras

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#1 Mike Woeller

Mike Woeller


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Posted 01 December 1998 - 04:02 AM

It's that time again to talk about taking pictures of people and kites. But before I start about composition and such, I want to take a moment to talk about safety. Not only do you have to be safe when flying kites, but when photographing kites, keep in mind that the same reasons you protect others are the same reasons you want to protect yourself. Don't always count on the pilot, though 90% of them are quite safety conscious, some aren't, and you can never tell who is who until something happens. No shot is worth losing something over, always remember. And when you can't get close, ZOOM!

That out of the way, this month I want to start talking about basic composition in your kite photos. Many people know these rules already. In fact, after being told, most people realize that it is all common sense. So why bother reading this article, and those to follow? Simple. By knowing the rules of composition, you can take the first idea for the shot to pop in your mind, evaluate it, then consider if there is a better way to do it. Over the next few issues, I'll be taking a rule or two at a time and talking about them.


Balance is a simple principle of making the picture even on both sides. Whether by placing things on each side of the picture, or by centering your subject, balance creates a more comfortable distribution of 'visual weight' in the picture. When there is more on one side, or more on top or bottom, the picture is unbalanced and leaves your viewer wondering. If this wonder is the concept you are looking for, then go with it. Always remember that unless you are selling these pictures or entering a competition with them, you are the one that has to be satisfied with it.

So how do you balance a picture? Think of your viewfinder as your print. Remembering this helps a lot. Now, look at your subject. Where is it in relation to the rest of the viewfinder? Is it all on one side? All at the top or bottom? Is it in the center? Or, if there are mutiple subjects (look carefully), are they concentrated in one area? If you answer yes to any of these questions, your picture may be unbalanced, and you will have extra space on the print that is wasted (again, unless that is what you want). To solve this, if there is one subject, center it and fill the frame with it (called domination, discussed at length in the future); or bring in another subject. Some examples are: zoom in on that parafoil up there, bring in another friend with that person, or have the kite builder hold the kite...the list goes on and on. Multiple subjects can be spread out over the entire space of the finder, or you can use another object or a set of many smaller objects to balance out a person or group. Just make sure that there is an even balance on both sides, or the top and bottom, of the picture. Don't forget the vertical shot, either. Use the camera in the orientation that best matches the subject. This creates a much more pleasing composition and negates any cropping that may be necessary after printing.

One other way of balancing a shot is to use color. Certain colors carry more weight in the human mind than others. Usually, warm colors such as reds and yellows carry more impact than coolor colors such as blues and purples. For example, a smaller area of red can balance out a larger area of blue.

The Rule Of Thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the most widely used rules of composition around. It's also one of the easiest to grasp. In fact, the hardest part of this rule is remembering to use it. And as always, this rule most of the times works in conjunction with one or more others; most of the time it's balance. The rule of thirds is more of a previsualization (discussed last issue) trick than anything. Again, when you look through your viewfinder divide your area into thirds, both horizontally and vertically (like a tic-tac-toe board). Now, there are several things to keep in mind here:
  • A mostly horizontal shot (like a landscape) will primarily use the horizontal lines in your head.
  • A mostly vertical shot (such as people standing) will primarily use the vertical lines.
  • A mix of vertical and horizontal needs to use all lines and their intersection points.
Let's take them in order. Horizontal shots are pretty easy. Using the example of a landscape, you'll need to find the line of contrast, like the horizon. This line will lay on either of the two lines in your head. If you're emphasizing the sky, such as in a shot of a mass ascension, place the horizon on the lower line. This will place your emphasis on the upper portion, or sky. If you are shooting a stretch of beach, place the horizon on the upper line to emphasize the ground. You will be leading the viewer to the area that has the most in it, so make sure you emphasize what you want them to see.

Vertical shots are a bit more challenging. Viewers tend to scan throught a picture like a book, and look from left to right. With this in mind, place your important subjects along the left line in your head. If you want a balanced shot, place your other subject on the right line. You don't have to be exact. Why avoid a perfectly centered shot? Well, that's debated and it is perfectly fine if you want them there. Off-center composition, though, generally grabs more interest than centering.

Now for the toughest, the shot with horizontal and vertical elements. This is where your power points come into play. The power points are the intersections of your four lines. This is where you want to place points of interest. For some reason, this is where most viewers see more impact in a picture. Your job, as photographer is to make them look at the right one. So, place your objects of most interest on the point you want, and make them a bit bigger. And remember, when you put something on one point, and you want to balance out, place something else of interest on the diagonally opposite point (IE: if you have a kite on the upper left hand corner, try to get a pilot or person in the lower right hand).

It sounds like a lot to remember, but if you were previsualizing what appeals to you like I discussed in the last issue, you will probably find that you have been using these rules all along. Just knowing what appeals to you is the first step and then taking the picture is another. Knowing why what appeals to you works, is the biggest step. Next issue, we'll talk about domination and isolation.
Mike Woeller

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