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Photo Tips > Tip #1: Get Out of the Middle!

Tip #1: Get Out of the Middle!


Tip #1: Get Out of the Middle!
The tendency is almost universal, and sometimes even experienced photographers make this mistake.  We put the subject right in the middle of our viewfinder, start to shoot, and the photo comes out something like photo 1 in the image below.  If your photos are ever framed like this, read on and in two minutes you can improve your photos!

When we put our subject in the middle of the screen, we leave an inordinate amount of room at the top of the image, and either cut off part of the person, or make them unbearably small. Worse, we miss the chance for a lot of impact.  Think about a professional portrait of one person. Never, ever, is the person's face in the middle of the image. (if it is, it is probably an inexperienced photographer!) Instead, the eyes are usually about 2/3 the way toward the top of the image.  This is called the "rule of thirds" and it is a pretty good starting point for more interesting photos.  In your mind, imagine a grid in your viewfinder like these three images:


As a starter, take the point of greatest interest and put it at that upper 2/3 line. Note that in image 2, I have moved Billie's face to the top 2/3 line. Now her whole body is showing and it is a more pleasing composition.  But it can still be better.  The points where the lines intersect are often called "power points" because the eye is naturally drawn to these locations. So, in image 3 I have moved Billie to the upper left "power point."  Better, yes?

There are two reasons to choose the upper left "power point" for Billie's face. One is that, at least in cultures where people read left to right/top to bottom, people are most often drawn to that power point first. A second reason to move her face to that power point is, her left hand is extended, thus by moving her body to the viewer's left, we get a more pleasing composition. Below you can see the same three images with the grid removed for easier viewing.

 

Most people will find image three to be the most pleasing of these compositions.  But wait...some of you find yourself drawn to image one, in spite of the poor composition.  Do you know why?  For most of us, it is because the image is more "up close and personal." Humans are drawn to other people's faces.  We want to "look in their eyes."  Sometimes a full length body shot is best, but sometimes it is better to move in closer.  So, take a look at images 7 & 8 below.  Seven has the rule of thirds grid and 8 does not. Otherewise, they are identical images.

In this compostion I moved in tighter to get a closer look at Billie's face.  People generally like that in a photo of a another person.  But notice that while I did not include all of her legs, I did include her arm.  With her arm extended, if I had cut off that arm it would have been unsettling to the viewer.  So get used to looking at the extremities.  I even see shots from professional photographers who will have a full length photo with the feet or a hand cut off.  Never, ever do that! If you are not showing all of the person's body, pay attention to where you cut them off.  Develop the habit of running your eyes around the edges of your photo frame to see what you are including and excluding.  If the whole leg is not showing, cut it above the knee.  Otherwise it looks careless.

Here is a summary of the key points in framing a photo of a person:

  1. Move out of the middle!  Don't put the subject in the middle of your viewfinder.
  2. Use the rule of thirds.  In another post, I will talk about when to violate this rule, but for now work on mastering it. When photographing a person, put the face--especially the eyes or the mouth on the upper third line.
  3. Remember the intersection of the thirds are the "power points" that draw the eye most naturally.
  4. Include all of the arms and legs or else crop them at a place that makes sense. Don't just cut off the hands or the feet.  It looks weird.


The same principles apply to landscape images. Generally speaking, get the subject out of the middle.  If your subject includes the horizon, consider moving it to the upper or lower third.  And the same is true of other natural scenes, even when there is no horizon included. Below is a photo of Wailua Falls on Kauai, Hawaii.  Note how the falls drops through the left vertical line and both left intersections and the sun bow hits on the lower right intersection. The falls is "looking" into the empty space. 




To see this image on my website
click here. To learn more, look through images on the OurBeautifulWorld website and see when they come close to the rule of thirds, and when I have purposefully violated the rule. In a future lesson, I will talk about when to break the rules. In the meantime, go take some photos!

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