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