Cornered: Breaking the rules…
We’ve been taught to watch the corners. In fact, any composition class worth its time and money will tell you to watch the corners. Distractions, stray light and other nasty things creep in from the corners. Sometimes, critical story-telling action takes place in the corners too and you have to be able to discern and crop accordingly to take advantage.
My daughter Whitney has a new puppy named Ludo (after the large monster in the movie Labyrinth). He is a 8 week-old Newfoundland. Wrangling a young and recently adopted puppy is a challenge – especially in a studio environment. Some of the captures not only stretched the sensibilities of composition, they struggled to keep the energetic youngster in frame!
Above is the original in-camera framing – uncropped. The focus of the shoot was to get Ludo’s puppy picture. Ludo is the subject. He is center frame, in focus and well lit just like I planned. I shot wide so that I could ensure that his entire body would remain in frame no-matter how much he moved about. After that, it was simply a matter of keeping him on the white seamless. As I went through the images in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, I noticed how nice the interaction was between Ludo and his new owner/mommy Whitney. I sought to crop this image while keeping their relationship intact and using it as my story.
With my Rule of Thirds overlaid on the capture, I examined the image for items that could be sacrificed and items that needed removal for the sake of distraction relief. Marked in read were the problem areas I saw. The edges of the seamless needed to be eliminated. Whether I cropped the area outside the seamless off or filled it in with white, that area had to go. Because this is Holy Crop! it was cropped off. I wanted to leave my daughter in frame to give a more robust story to the puppy’s pose. He is looking at her – she is looking at him. That interaction is powerful! The angles of their lines of sight, suggest a diagonal composition.
Cropping to the edge of the seamless right and left tightened up the composition nicely but left a little too much space to the right. The space under Ludo’s feet was pretty close to where I wanted it so I let it stay untouched. I only had a partial face of Whitney to begin with so I didn’t risk cutting any more out off of the top. One eye was enough to establish the line of sight. With pretty close to a full arm and part of the upper torso, I was confident I had enough person to scream ‘person’.
Let’s talk about balance. Good composition has a balance. Though Whitney is bigger than Ludo, Ludo is closer to camera than Whitney. Ludo is darker than Whitney meaning he holds the weight of the photo. Ludo is also the primary subject of the photo. The trick to balancing Whitney in the upper left with Ludo in the lower right is manage space.
I’ve blacked out the four ninth sections of the image where nothing is taking place. It is just empty space. To balance the two entities and compose them successfully in the corners, I have to keep them within these bounds. Both square areas need to have reasonable composition respectively when viewed as disjoint images for this to work. The angle between the centers of the two square areas needs to be approximately the angle of the line joining the eyes of both. A little fine tweaking of the right edge inward allowed me to ensure that the angle worked.
Ludo takes up four squares. Whitney takes up one square. Their positions in space satisfy the balance between the objects and their relationship as defined by the line of sight. What we are left with is a portrait of a puppy, owner and the story of their first photo session together.
Composition is possible working from the corners. Watch your interaction of your corner subjects and give proper presence to the subject and their supporting players! Balance and motion are key. Compose each corner separately and make sure the relative positions support the movement of our eyes around the image.
Now, let’s see some of your cornered subjects!
Rikk Flohr © 2016