Tips & Techniques » Photo Composition: Colors, Patterns and Textures, Part 2
Overview of Part l
In Photo Composition: The Make it or Break it Factor, Part 1, I stated that the term 'composition' refers to the way you place elements of an image in relationship to each other. I covered some of the elements of good composition, which include:
I also covered the centuries-old Rule of Thirds, which refers to the way an image is visually divided to give emphasis to the most important feature of the photograph, as well as formatting, either vertical or horizontal, to determine what best suits the subject. I suggested that size gives the best cues as to the scale of a subject, with the human figure being one of the best indicators; and the concept of using leading lines to direct the viewer toward the main focus of the photograph. Let's move on to some other elements that can make or break a good composition - specifically, colors, patterns and textures.
|Primary Colors is an image that features strong primary colors which excite the viewer's eye.|
Color, more than any other design element, can convey the emotional content of a photograph. You can establish the mood of a shot by emphasizing a particular color scheme. Reds and oranges are hot and exciting. Blues and greens are cool and refreshing. Yellows warm us and make us feel happy.
You can use color to create specific effects. With careful framing and camera angle, you can draw attention to a relatively small but brightly colored subject against a more subdued background. The subtle danger inherent in using color for this purpose is that, unless you are careful in composing your images, bright patches of color may divert the eye to minor, unimportant parts of a scene.
|The muted colors of Meditation Morning set a quiet and serene mood.|
Vibrant contrasts, particularly among bright primary colors--reds, yellows and blues--are especially effective in creating dynamic designs. Such contrasts excite the eye, making it jump from one color to the next. Gentler combinations of pastels create light-hearted or romantic moods, while earthy tones offer a more natural or organic feel.
Weather, lighting and exposure all influence colors in your images. Bright, sunny days are good when you want to zap your images with day-glow brilliance; overcast days produce subtle, more saturated color combinations. Exposure, too, affects colors. You can intensify colors by underexposing from one-quarter up to a full stop, or conversely, you can subdue colors by overexposing from one-quarter to a full stop.
|Zipper is another example of nature's patterns, seen in both the spider's natural appearance and its intricate handiwork.|
Like a series of repeating notes in a melody, natural and man-made patterns bring a sense of harmony to photographs. Patterns appear whenever strong elements--lines, colors, shape or forms--repeat themselves.
The key to emphasizing patterns is to isolate them from their surroundings. By excluding everything but the design, you create the illusion that the repetition is infinite, extending beyond the frame. Telephoto and longer zoom lenses are excellent tools for isolating and extracting patterns. Close-ups are filled with pattern; consider the swirl of seeds in a sunflower or the intricate tracings of color in a butterfly’s wing.
|Ahead of the Game actually teases the senses with its pattern. Whose head is it anyway?|
Find symmetry by exploring subjects from a variety of angles. While you might not notice a colorful design as you maneuver through a crowded marketplace, it becomes blatantly clear from an upper floor window or balcony.
Patterns also reinforce the emotional appeal of their components. Whatever emotional response a single design element arouses is reinforced and multiplied when repeated in a pattern.
|Wine O is an older image, demonstrating how a broken pattern can catch the eye.|
Broken patterns can also make for interesting images. For example you might photograph a multitude of green fern leaves, focusing on a single leaf that has turned yellow. Sometimes you will find these interruptions naturally appearing around you, and on other occasions you may have to manipulate the situation to interrupt the pattern yourself. Broken repetition may include an object of contrasting color, shape or pattern, or even removing one of the repeating objects.
Another way to interrupt symmetry is to use sharp focus on only one of the objects in the pattern, while the objects in the pattern are slightly out of focus. This can be done by shooting the subjects sharply and then manipulating the background using a blur effect in post processing.
|Taos Doorway is an example of both rough and smooth textures contrasting one another, which gives emphasis to both.|
Capitalize on the tactile qualities of subjects. Our memories of how things feel are so ingrained in our consciousness that the mere sight of them brings a vivid sensation of touch. By exploiting textures, you not only show how the object looks, but also how it feels, which will add another dimension to your images.
Surface textures become most apparent when they are illuminated from an oblique light source. Angled light catches the shape and imperfections of an object’s surface and creates a pattern of highlight and shadow to produce visual texture. The quality of light is also important. Bold and large textures, such as the bark of a tree, are best revealed by strong, direct sunlight. Smooth, more finely detailed textures, such as that of satin, would be erased by powerful light, and are best revealed by gentler, oblique light.
There are three important elements that you should consider in order to enhance textures in your photographs:
|High Noon demonstrates how strong light creates strong textures.|
Framing is important as well, especially when you want to give texture a leading role. By moving in close to an old, weathered face, either physically or with a long lens, you focus the viewer’s attention on the wrinkles and character. When the texture is part of a broader scene, as in the surfaces of a coarse and barren desert, it is often better to back off and show its broad expanse.
Sometimes you can dramatize texture by contrasting different surfaces within a scene--for example an elderly potter’s gnarled hands turning a vessel of smooth, wet clay. It is important to move in close and exclude everything that doesn’t enhance the tactile qualities of your image. Remember, texture adds depth, character, information and impact.
Breaking the Rules
Now that you have learned these rules of good composition, it’s time to break a few. Just as there are times when guidelines are helpful, there are times when they can be modified or ignored altogether. For example, in some images, placing the main subject dead center may be more striking than placing the subject 2/3rds into the image. Knowing when to ignore the guidelines requires some experience, but the results can be quite dramatic. This knowledge may be a major factor in making you the photographer who rises above the crowd.
Eileen Maris Cohen attended the Maryland Institute of Fine Art and the University Of Maryland, earning degrees in Advertising and Fine Arts and a Masters in Psychology. She has worked as an Advertising Artist and Art Director, as well as owned and operated a landscape design company. After migrating to Sarasota, Florida in 1987, Eileen became an avid environmentalist, combining a passion for photography with a love of wildlife. She is the official photographer for the Symphony Orchestra Association, the Moderator for the Venice Camera Club, a Teacher/Lecturer at New College in Sarasota and the winner of several local, regional and national photography competitions. Eileen's work can be viewed at: imagesbyeileen.org, and she can be reached at Seacee@comcast.net.