theory

Suitable For Framing

Framing is the technique of drawing attention to the subject of your image by blocking other parts of the image with something in the scene *

There’s an old writing technique that says that it is more effective for a writer to “show” rather than to simply “tell”. The same can be said for photography. While the nature of photography means that everything is more or less there in front of you to see, there actually is this element of holding back, of not quite showing your whole hand in order to tell a more impactful story.

One of the simplest ways to do this is through framing and composition. Framing, like the quote above says, is the act of drawing attention to something in your shot. Composition meanwhile, is all the individual elements that are in a photograph that help to draw the attention of the person looking at it. Things like rule of thirds, depth of field, colour, repetition and framing are all methods of composition.

When we take a photo, the particular framing of the photograph is one of the biggest things we think about. Framing is hugely influential in the way the photograph will look overall, even down to the emotion it will evoke. Not only is it an aesthetic decision, but it ultimately becomes a narrative decision – what are we choosing to put in, and almost just as important, what are we choosing to leave out?

Boiled down to the simplest choices – will we shoot a photograph in landscape or portrait? Will the main focus of the photograph be centre-framed, or framed at an extreme left or right side of frame? When I first started taking con photos, one of the first aesthetic choices I really felt comfortable making on my own was that I didn’t really like shooting centre-framed shots. I’m not sure why; I didn’t understand why I was doing it, it was just a personal stylistic choice that I made that has stayed with me ever since.

 

Jensen Ackles, ChiCon 2012

Jensen Ackles, ChiCon 2012

 

Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6, 2015

Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6, 2015

 

That’s not to say that I don’t centre frame at all – I do, and I do a lot more now. But I am still a huge advocate for negative space and the strength it can give an image. Negative Space is basically all the parts in a photograph that aren’t the subject of the photograph. So in the photo of Timothy Omundson above, the black above and around him is negative space. It’s an element that can be used as another way of telling a narrative through your image – is there lots of negative space because the subject is isolated emotionally and physically? Is it being used to denote space and vastness, like in a photo of a hot air balloon in the sky? For the photo above, I liked the way he was looking up into the space. The blackness added a sense of drama. It’s not necessarily telling a story, but to someone looking at it maybe it will.

I’ve been looking at the incredible photographs by Vivian Maier recently, and the photo below seemed like a really good example of the way negative space can denote a sense of the unknown. Who is this woman and where is she going? Towards that car? Does the act of us looking at her going towards the black negative space give us a sense of excitement because she’s obviously all dressed up to go somewhere? Or does it make us feel kind of uncomfortable because she is heading into the unknown?

 

Vivian Maier, January 9, 1957, Florida

Vivian Maier, January 9, 1957, Florida

 

Which is another one of the big motivators behind things like framing and composition, it’s not only something that we choose because we think it looks good. The way we choose to present photographs goes a long way to influence how people will feel looking at them. So what we choose to show – and leave out – plays a big part in that. I noticed that when I started going back and re-cropping some of my old convention photos I could add a different emphasis to a photograph just in the way I chose to frame it. I could more or less “make” the viewer focus on what I wanted them to.

Another one of Vivian Maier’s photographs highlighted this sense of emphasis for me.

 

Vivian Maier, July 27, 1954, New York, NY

Vivian Maier, July 27, 1954, New York, NY

 

This couple are obviously very close, but we don’t need the extra information that would come from having them fully in the photograph. We don’t need to see their eyes, or them looking at each other. We can get all the information we need from how close they are standing to one another and their hands being loosely intertwined. It shows comfort, stability and intimacy in a non-conventional way. There are few elements in the photograph but the ones that are there all work towards that one idea. We can formulate our own stories about what is happening beyond the boundaries of the frame of the photograph just by the very small window we are shown within it.

It’s one of the things I most love about photography; that it is a tiny piece of a much greater whole. I would often cut limbs and faces out of photographs because I wanted to show this idea of the dynamic – the people I photograph could not possibly be contained in a small frame, they belonged to a time and a space well outside it. I was only there capturing what small part I could.

 

Jensen Ackles, VanCon 2015

Jensen Ackles, VanCon 2015

 

Rob Benedict, PasCon 2015

Rob Benedict, PasCon 2015

 

Dani and Dad, December 2012

Dani and Dad, December 2012

 

Richard Speight Jr and Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015

Richard Speight Jr and Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015

 

I am by no means even anywhere near the league of people like Vivian Maier, but these same principles can be used in photography no matter what level you are. It helps you to focus on what you’re trying to do with a photo, and what kind of a story you want to tell. It’s ultimately the goal of all art – to tell a story. Just like writers have rules and tricks, so do photographers.

 

 

If you would like to check out more of Vivian Maier’s beautiful¬† work and read the fascinating story of her life and how she was discovered, visit her site here

*This quote is from Digital Photography School Online and can be accessed here

White and Gold and Black and Blue

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have heard about the internet kerfuffle about the colour of a certain dress.

Some saw a white/gold dress, others a black/blue dress. I personally saw white and gold, and it took a lot of manipulation in Lightroom to make me see black and blue. Some of my friends swore they saw it as black and blue. Whatever colours you see, it threw into light interesting concepts of colour and how everyone views colour in different ways. (In the end, I think almost everyone decided it was a pretty ugly dress whatever colour it was.)

But this isn’t a blog about the dress, I promise.

Someone asked me on tumblr not long ago why I had “colour theory” listed as an inspiration on my photography tumblr and what that meant. Today’s debate reminded me of that, and why colour is actually an important subject for artists – photographers especially – to study.

So what is colour theory?

Colour theory is basically a set of structures to measure the application of, and relationship between, colours. These theories have been built up over time since at least the 15th century, and have evolved using maths, physics and chemistry. Thankfully (for me!) the modern colour theories are a lot easier to grasp and revolve around some basic grounding ideas.

Colour Systems

There are two primary colour systems – methods by which colour is reproduced: additive and subtractive. Additive colour works with anything that emits or radiates light. Your computer monitor and other screens use the additive system and primary colours of Red, Green and Blue (RGB model). In this model, white is the combination of colours and black is the absence of colour. The Subtractive colour system works on the basis of reflected light and also has its own recognised primary colours – Cyan, Magenta and Yellow (CMY model). Unlike RGB, in this model black is the combination of colours and white is the absence of colour, however this system is imperfect. You may have heard of CMYK – this is because in the subtractive model a fourth pigment (called “Key”) is needed to actually create true black.

RGB vs CMYK by m-graphix.com

RGB vs CMYK by m-graphix.com

The Colour Wheel

Sir Issac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colours in 1666. Since then there have been many variations on the theme, but the basic plotting of colours on a wheel allows us to see the primary colours (Red, Blue and Yellow, colours that cannot be mixed or formed by any other combination of colours), secondary colours (formed by mixing the primary colours) and tertiary colours (made by mixing and primary and secondary colour eg. blue-green).

The Colour Wheel by Dr Gil Dekel

The Colour Wheel by Dr Gil Dekel

Colour Harmonies

Colour harmonies are the relationships between colours, and can be easily read using the colour wheel. Dr Gil Dekel on poeticmind.co.uk has made an excellent diagram showing the harmonies and how they can be read on the colour wheel.

Monochromes

Monochromes

Complementary

Complementary

Triads

Triads

Analogous

Analogous

Modern day software – like Adobe Kuler (now Adobe Colour) can develop thousands of these harmonies into pleasing visual palettes. It’s like going to a hardware store and picking different paint chips or swatches – some combinations will work better than others and that is ultimately down to their relative relationship on the colour wheel.

So why is colour theory important?

Colour theory is important in all facets of art and design, because of the effect that colours and their combinations can have on the viewer. Interior designers rely on colours and their combinations to create certain moods for certain rooms of a house – for example, a warm, earthy palette for a living room and a cooler, breezier colour scheme for a bathroom. Artists use colour theory to mix and create colours to suit their needs. Photographers can use colour theory to influence composition – utilising colour can make one subject stand out, can create tension within a frame or can be used to create overall harmony.

Even when I’m working with black and white, I will shoot in colour because the greater the scope of colour within an image, the greater the tonality will be in black and white. There will be a whole range of tones in between the black and the white, giving the image range and depth that it wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise. Colour is always a consideration.

It’s a powerful but often overlooked part of everyday life. The brilliant thing about colour is that while there are these foundational ideas that we talked about, the way we each perceive and respond to colour and colour combinations is intensely personal.¬†Two people can see the same combination of colours, and yet have very different ideas about whether or not it is visually pleasing. It can affect our environment and mood; it dictates the way we dye our hair, the way we decorate our houses, even the kind of car we drive.

And, obviously, it can spark massive debates online over how we each see a dress.

Resources:

‘Basic Colour Theory’ http://www.colormatters.com/color-and-design/basic-color-theory

‘Basic Colour Scheme’ http://www.tigercolor.com/color-lab/color-theory/color-theory-intro.htm

‘How to Master Colour Theory’ http://www.creativebloq.com/colour/colour-theory-11121290

‘The Colour Wheel’ http://www.poeticmind.co.uk/research/the-colour-wheel/

‘The Photographer’s Master Guide To Colour’ by Jeff Wignall

‘Trading Spaces – RGB vs CMYK’ http://www.m-graphix.com/trading-spaces-rgb-vs-cmyk/