The Photographer's Eye Digitally Remastered 10th Anniversary Edition
eBook - ePub

The Photographer's Eye Digitally Remastered 10th Anniversary Edition

Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos

Michael Freeman

  1. 192 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

The Photographer's Eye Digitally Remastered 10th Anniversary Edition

Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos

Michael Freeman

Book details
Book preview
Table of contents

About This Book

Design is the single most important factor in creating a successful photograph. The ability to see the potential for a strong picture, then to organise the graphic elements into an effective, compelling composition has always been one of the critical skills in making photographs.

Since its first publication in 2007, The Photographer's Eye has established itself as the essential work on this subject, and a key book for modern photographers, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold. It explores all the traditional approaches to composition and design and, crucially, also covers digital possibilities like stitching and HDR.

In keeping with the book's purpose "to expand the possibilities of the medium without compromising the photographer's vision" this edition has been completely remastered to celebrate its tenth anniversary. All-new digital reproduction, not available when the book first came out, gives the author's photography a fresh new look, while retaining the know-how that has given a generation of photographers new purpose.

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Photographs are created within a spatial context, and that context is the viewfinder frame. This may be carried through unchanged to the final image, whether print or on-screen, or it may be cropped or extended. In whichever case, the borders of the image, nearly always a rectangle, exert strong influences on what is arranged inside them.
There is an important distinction, nevertheless, between composing photographs in the frame as they are intended to be, and planning ahead to either crop or extend the frame. Most 35mm film photography has been concerned with tight, final composition at the time of shooting, and at times this has led to a culture of demonstrating the fact by showing the rebates (the frame edges of the film) in the final print—a way of saying “hands off” once the shutter has been released. Square-format film, as we’ll see on pages 13-17, is less amenable to comfortable composition, and is often used for later cropping. Large format film, such as 4x5-inch and 8x10-inch, is large enough to allow cropping without much loss of resolution in the final image, and is also often cropped, particularly in commercial work. Now digital photography adds its own twist to this, as stitching becomes more widely used for panoramas and over-sized images (see pages 18-19).
In traditional, shooting-to-the-final-composition photography, the frame plays a dynamic role, and arguably more so than in painting. The reason is that while a painting is built up from nothing, out of perception and imagination, the process of photography is one of selection from real scenes and events. Potential photographs exist in their entirety inside the frame every time the photographer raises the camera and looks through the viewfinder. Indeed, in very active, fast shooting, such as street photography, the frame is the stage on which the image evolves. Moving around a scene with the camera to the eye, the frame edges assume a considerable importance, as objects move into frame and immediately interact with them. The last chapter in this book, Process, deals with managing this constantly changing interaction between view and frame edges. It is complex, even when dealt with intuitively. If the subject is static, like a landscape, it is easy to spend enough time studying and evaluating the frame. With active subjects, however, there is not this period of grace. Decisions about composition, whatever they are, must often be taken in less time than it takes for them to be recognized as such.
Facility at using this frame depends on two things: knowing the principles of design, and the experience that comes from taking photographs regularly. The two combine to form a photographer’s way of seeing things, a kind of frame vision that evaluates scenes from real life as potential images. What contributes to this frame vision is the subject of the first section of this volume.


The setting for the image is the picture frame. In photography, the format of this frame is fixed at the time of shooting, although it is always possible later to adjust the shape of the frame to the picture you have taken. Nevertheless, whatever opportunities exist for later changes (see pages 58-61), do not underestimate the influence of the viewfinder on composition. Most cameras offer a view of the world as a bright rectangle surrounded by blackness, and the presence of the frame is usually strongly felt. Even though experience may help you to ignore the dimensions of the viewfinder frame in order to shoot to a different format, intuition will work against this, encouraging you to make a design that feels satisfying at the time of shooting.
The most common picture area is the one shown at the top of this page: that of a horizontal frame in the proportions 3:2. Professionally, this is the most widely used camera format, and holding it horizontally is the easiest method. As an empty frame it has certain dynamic influences, as the diagram shows, although these tend to be felt only in very minimal and delicately toned images. More often, the dynamics of lines, shapes, and colors in the photograph take over completely.
Depending on the subject and on the treatment the photographer chooses, the edges of the frame can have a strong or weak influence on the image. The examples shown here are all ones in which the horizontal and vertical borders, and the corners, contribute strongly to the design of the photographs. They have been used as references for diagonal lines within the pictures, and the angles that have been created are important features.
What these photographs demonstrate is that the frame can be made to interact strongly with the lines of the image, but that this depends on the photographer’s intention. If you choose to shoot more loosely, in a casual snapshot fashion, the frame will not seem so important. Compare the structural images on these two pages with less formally composed picture taken on a Calcutta street on page 165.
Just the existence of a plain rectangular frame induces some reaction in the eye. This is one schema of how the eye might react (there are, of course, many). It begins in the middle, drifts up and left, then back down, and right, while at some point—either though peripheral vision or by flicking—registers the “sharp” corners. The dark surround seen through a camera viewfinder emphasizes corners and edges.
One simple device for originating an image that has prominent lines is to align one or two of them with the frame. In the case of this office block, the alignment of top edges avoids the untidiness of two corner areas of sky. Alignment like this emphasizes the geometry of an image.
The dynamic movement in this wide-angle photograph comes from the interplay of diagonals with the rectangular frame. Although the diagonal lines have an independent movement and direction, it is the reference standard of the frame edges that allows them to create tension in this picture.
Breaking the normal rules, a panoramic frame is used here to exaggerate an abstract treatment of the back of an adobe church in New Mexico. A conventional approach would have been to show the top of this building and the lower buttressing down to the ground. The subject here, however, is not a literal version of the church, but the geometry and textures of the unusual planes. Squeezing the image at the top and bottom removes some of the realism, and compels the eye to consider the structure out of context.


The shape of the viewfinder frame (and LCD screen) has a huge influence on the form that the image takes. Despite the ease of cropping it later, there exists a powerful intuitive pressure at the time of shooting to compose right up to the edges of the frame. Indeed, it takes years of experience to ignore those parts of an image that are not being used, and some photographers never get used to this.
Most photography is composed to a few rigidly defined formats (aspect ratios), unlike in other graphic arts. Until digital photography, by far the most common format was 3:2—that of the standard 35mm camera, measuring 36x24mm—but now that the physical width of film is no longer a constraint, the majority of low- and middle-end cameras have adopted the less elongated, more “natural” 4:3 format that fits more comfortably on printing papers and monitor displays. The question of which aspect ratios are perceived as the most comfortable is a study in its own right, but in principle, there seems to be a tendency toward longer horizontally (the increasing popularity of wide-screen and letterbox formats for television), but less elongated for vertically composed images.


This is the classic 35mm frame, w...

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