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Composition Considerations - How to read a photograph!

We've learned our ABCs, time to start reading!

Today I am providing three photos I have taken and we are going to break them and analyse them. Just like you can read a book, you can read a photo! This is a great exercise to reinforce all your new knowledge and to develop an appreciation of photographs as an art form!

Coffee brewed, lets go ...

We've covered in the last two blogs a lot of material covering composition. We looked at my composition philosophy and what mindset you should have when approaching composition. Then we covered an easy way to build composition into your shooting habits.

If this sounds familiar, then brew your coffee and continue reading, I have a fun blog below to put our new skills in to practice! If not, I would suggest checking in with the previous blogs here and then here before forging on!

Coffee poured, Ready to forge on … but how do you read a photograph?

So often when doing these exercises, it tends to work in 3 layers - 1st your gut or emotional reaction. 2nd your more rational assessment and 3rd a deeper, more philosophical reaction. We will identify the subject, the composition tools used and then look for symbols or a deeper meaning.

So I would suggest trying to write your responses then or take very good mental notes at each stage. I have also done this but please bear in mind, since there are my photos, my perspective is very different.

Photo 1:

What was your initial reaction?

I like it. I mean it is a dog - what is not to like.

Why did I like it?

Well the subject which is a dog is something that conjures up all sorts of positive feelings. Also the perspective of the look from the dog, is classic puppy eyes which elicits that aww response in most humans. The close crop creates a sense of intimacy and familiarity with the dog. The sharpness in the eyes further cements that connection. The eyes also fall on the vertical lines and the ears on the horinzontal line as according to the rule of thirds dogma. The planks create a nice lead in line flow to the picture also. The brightness of the exposure and colouring creates a feeling of calmness. The overall picture creates a sense of calm, trust and happiness.

Is there more going on?

The dog came from a loving home and just wanted another treat from the photographer. I had spent quite a bit of time with this dog and built a relationship with him. This is evident in the expressions of his face and in the fact I could do such a close up of him with him being nervous. There is no deeper meaning to this photo than my own affection to dogs and to this dog. Not all photos need to speak to a philosophical level.

Photo 2.

What was your initial reaction?

When I see this photo it brings a huge smile to my face. I love it. It was captured at two of my best friend's wedding just as they were declared husband and wife. It is clear from the context of the clothes that it is a wedding and for most people - weddings conjure up happy romantic feelings. So it is an easy picture to like.

Why did I like it?

The posing of the bride being picked up conveys excitement and joy. The swish of her hair and the shape of the dress convey the movement and make this picture more dynamic.

The eye contact between the two subjects makes you feel the love they have for each other which again builds on this narrative of happiness, joy and love.

The way the tree on the right follows the line of the bride’s body helps create a pleasing composition and green background helps provide contrast to their outfits.

If I had more control, or could do a do over, I wish I was more to the right of them so her arm is not cutting off his face. Also if I was a bit more to the right the table behind them wouldn't be so in the way and behind my subjects but more separated which I think would improve this image a bit.

This photo doesn't really follow the rule of thirds. The beige circle highlights the eye contact of the subjects. The red arrows shown the flow through the images.

Is there more going on?

Not overly. There is no deep political or metaphorical message to this photo as intended by me. You could force a metaphor of how the new couple jumped into their new future together. But honestly it is just a photo of a very in love and very happy newly wed couple.

Photo 3.

What was your initial reaction?

I love this photo in both B&W and in the colour for different reasons. I captured this lovely pair on a photoshoot for the child's 1st birthday - though due to covid the shoot itself took place a wee bit late for her birthday.

Why did I like it?

It is so sweet how the child is hugging the mother. The convention is the mother would hug a child so the reversal of this is sweet, contrasting and more eye catching.

The close crop creates intimacy as if we are a part of a private sweet moment between daughter and mother. The closeness of the two subjects' faces shows us the viewer how comfortable they are with each other. We can tell instantly they love each other.

In the colour picture - there is more energy and has a more youthful buzz to it. I feel more drawn to the child's personality and warmth. While in the B&W photo, I feel I notice the mother smile more since our eyes are drawn to the brightest aspect in the photo which in this case is the smile of the mother framed by the young child's cardigan.

These photos do follow the rule of thirds. In the coloured one, the facial features of the two subjects fall on the intersections of the lines. The beige circles in the coloured one highlights the point of contact between the subjects that show the lack of space and the intimacy. The red circle in the B&W picture highlights how the lack of colour makes her smile pop!

Is there more going on?

Yes and no. In one sense it is just a photo of a mother and daughter in the park having fun. The B&W photo I feel speaks to a bit of a higher level of family bonds and in particular the bond of mother and daughter. It represents a type of family that I would aspire to if I were a mother. While we see just one brief moment of a hug, it lets us in on a deeper insight into their relationship. Since children are so raw and honest, we know this response is genuine and true. We can therefore deduce she is a good mother loved by her child and that they have a happy home.

Final sip of coffee thoughts:

I choose three (or four) depending if you count the last picture as two or not that I love, and represent relationships. Be it a relationship between photographer and dog, between a loved up couple and between a mother and daughter.

I thought aside from looking at them in unison we can look at how as a photographer we can convey different types of relationships. For example, look at the eyes. In the first picture the eye contact is with the photographer and therefore the viewer - this creates a relationship with the subject and viewer directly. In the others the eye contact is between the subjects, casting the viewer as an observer. This changes the emotional response and the narrative experienced by the viewer.

For doing more formal portraits eye contact with the viewer is critical, while more candid casual style shoots can benefit from the indirect eye contact - think someone looking off to the side!

I also hope by looking at three different styles of shoots, you can see the rules of composition come up and can be used regardless to improve your photos.

What did you think of the images? Did you agree with my assessment? Did you notice something else? Let me know in the comments!

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