When selecting a compositional guide for classical photographic framing many people agonize over the many choices presented in their editing software. It is no secret that I rely upon and espouse the “Lightroom” way of cropping. Lightroom alone offers 7 different guides and some guides have 8 variations. Recently it struck me, though it had long dwelt on the periphery of my thoughts, how similar the placement of the key ‘power point’ is in many different compositional guides.
Here is the same image captured in the standard DSLR aspect ratio of 3:2 with four of Lightroom’s compositional overlays activated. I chose the four overlays that best place a subject and ignored those overlays designed for alignment, leading lines and paper size. From top to bottom are Triangles, the Fibonacci Spiral, the Golden Ratio, and the Rule of Thirds. Traditional compositional theory has held that when you place a subject in frame using these guides that you will have a more pleasing and powerful composition – generally speaking. The intersection of the guides is called a power point. Notice how close all these power points are?
In fact, to illustrate this, I put each of these screen captures into a separate Photoshop Layer with the blend mode set to Lighten and put a red dot on each power point. Pretty interesting, isn’t it. Makes that sweet spot look just a little bit bigger.
Following rules and sticking to guides is great, but realize that there are many rules, some of which are discordant with one another as well as those which harmonize. In terms of strong image placement in a standard DSLR aspect ratio output, Rule of thirds really nails the middle of the range but other placement strategies harmonize close enough for Rock-n-Roll.
Remember that there are many other factors to consider in composition and that blithely placing subjects on the guides and calling it composed without consideration to rules of space, odds, motion and other sensibilities specific to your image’s content is dangerous to the final harmony of your image.
Rikk Flohr © 2014