As we compose our images, both in-camera and in-software, we must be mindful of a few rules of sensibility. One of these rules is the Rule of Grounding.
Often times, the shot we want is of subjects far in the air: the moon, the night, the clouds, the shadow of the earth. All of these things are present in the image above. Also present is a distracting butte that barely intrudes upon the frame. Our sensibilities tell us that that butte sits on the earth below and doesn’t float in space. This is the essence of the Rule of Grounding. Things we expect to be anchored to the earth should be anchored-visibly. Showing that makes for a stronger image. The question is, how much ground do we show?
The answer? Just enough – but not too much.
Here is a slightly different crop of the scene. It is a little wider because I decided I liked the line of the cloud sweeping diagonally through the frame. I also like it because it enhances the shadow of the curvature of the earth much better than the narrower crop above. In this image we allow the ground to take up 1/11th of the frame as measured by the horizon (and not the butte). Is it enough? It establishes the grounding but it fails to give us sense of place. Perhaps we need more.
A little tweak and now we are allowing a little more grounding. In this shot, the ground is consuming 1/9th of the frame. We can start to discern the contours of the foreground terrain. The shot is still about the moon, the sunset glow, the shadow of the earth and the liquid blue dusk but now we have a feel for where we are. But the ground seems a little flat. How about more depth?
Tweaking the crop again to place the horizon at the 1/7th mark, we end up with this version. Now, we can see even more foreground. Notice how the ridge and the distant butte are pushed back by the now-visible flat foreground? The picture is still 85% sky but now we have created depth by using grounding to its full advantage.
For this image, allowing 1/7th of the image to go to ground, creates depth that 1/9th and 1/11th just can’t provide. As you struggle to decide just how much ground to leave in a scene that is predominately taking place in the air, consider trying a variety of crops. Place your horizon on the 1/5, 1/7, 1/9, and 1/11 rules. Find the one that adds to your vision rather than just takes away pixels.
Rikk Flohr © 2011
Holy Crop! is cropping in Costa Rica the next two weeks. Internet connection willing, we will post some crops from the workshop.