Lin­ing things up

Frame bound­aries aside, look for graphic align­ments be­tween sub­jects, even if they have noth­ing in com­mon in real life

NPhoto - - Niko Pedia -

The way that fog works in an im­age is that it sep­a­rates sub­jects, and from that you can find a way to link them

Align­ment doesn’t al­ways have to be tied to the frame edges or cor­ners. Bring­ing to­gether dif­fer­ent ob­jects in the frame so there’s some sort of or­der be­tween them is a more per­sonal kind of align­ment. It’s more per­sonal be­cause it de­pends first on you see­ing the op­por­tu­nity for this – which usu­ally isn’t a real tan­gi­ble con­nec­tion, just a graphic one – and se­cond on your view­point.

Graphic jux­ta­po­si­tions like the one pic­tured to the right ex­ist only from one cam­era po­si­tion, so step­ping to one side is usu­ally part of the tech­nique. The set­ting here was the Kaveri river in Kar­nataka, India, on a foggy morn­ing. Like the Holy Is­land scene on page 77, it had the ba­sic ingredients for a pho­to­graph, but it also needed some­thing more.

Fog can be won­der­ful for sim­pli­fy­ing any scene, as well as for iso­lat­ing sub­jects (see page 34 for our fog tu­to­rial), but you still need at least a cou­ple of el­e­ments to work with. Here I started with a farmer, who led his cow into the shal­lows of the river to drink. So far so good, but the sub­ject was still just a man with a cow on a foggy day, which wasn’t par­tic­u­larly riv­et­ing. How­ever, the way that fog works in an im­age is that it sep­a­rates sub­jects, and from that you can find a way to link them.

Make the con­nec­tion

In this scene, there was a lone palm tree iso­lated by the fog on the far bank of the river, and the ob­vi­ous thing to do was to fit that to­gether some­how with the man and cow. As the il­lus­tra­tions show, my first idea was a sim­ple L-shape. Then, as the man and cow moved about, I tried an in­verted T with the sug­ges­tion of a tri­an­gle. Next I used a sim­ple up-and-down con­nec­tion.

But the one that worked much bet­ter than the oth­ers was the last, when the man’s stance aligned him per­fectly with the sin­u­ous curve of the tree trunk. Not only that, but the slope of his shoul­ders was a mir­ror im­age of the tree’s shape. As with the other two main photos in this month’s fea­ture, this fi­nal step to­wards a suc­cess­ful im­age was small but sig­nif­i­cant – and very much down to luck. Chance plays a large part in pho­tog­ra­phy, but you need to be pre­pared to take ad­van­tage of it.

This is also a clas­sic ex­am­ple of the Gestalt law of good con­tin­u­a­tion. Gestalt the­ory sug­gests we nat­u­rally jump to con­clu­sions with images, and as­sume that, ba­si­cally, things join up. Here, the slightly un­du­lat­ing but dis­tinctly ver­ti­cal line of the palm tree ‘con­tin­ues’ into the pro­file of the farmer. It’s the rep­e­ti­tion of the curve that makes it work, and the re­sult­ing align­ment dom­i­nates and or­ders the com­po­si­tion.

Look­ing for a way to con­nect the palm tree with an In­dian farmer lead­ing his cow to drink, I tried a few graphic re­la­tion­ships (shown in the top strip). The most ef­fec­tive (above and right) works be­cause of the flow­ing curves that link the tree trunk to the man’s pos­ture. The curved line of the man’s pro­file echoes that of the tree, and is it­self echoed by the curve of the cow’s horns.

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