Saturday, 28 April 2012

Exercise 15 : Elements of Design : Positioning a Point

The most basic and fundamental element of design is the point.  By definition it needs to be both a very small part of the frame and also to contrast with the surroundings.  An isolated object set against a plain background is the most obvious form of point and therefore the most important aspect of the design must become the actual positioning of the point within the frame itself.  Classic point positioning is usually stated to be in the middle, slightly off-centre and close to the edge.  Freeman (2007) contends that a point can be seen straight away as it is the only element in the picture, and therefore its placement is chiefly for the aesthetics of the picture.  Central placement is regarded as static and dull as it confers no energy to an image, off-centre placement brings a little more interest (but raises the question as to where to place it off centre), whereas edge placement is more interesting but requires a reason to place the point in any particular position (and the nearer the edge, the greater the challenge there is in justifying the placement).  It is an interesting debate as to when a point becomes too large a part of the frame to be considered a point and becomes just a photograph of something!  However, it is clearly not necessary to have a point at all ... the world’s most expensive image,  Rhine II by Andreas Gursky was sold for 2.7 million dollars and has no points at all!
The images I have taken so far in TAOP do include points.  Exercise 7 in The Frame positioned a person at four different locations within the frame, each of which would be considered as a single point.  In that exercise I concluded that the central positioning was the least dynamic and that the preferred option was the ‘point’ placed on the classic third and looking ‘into’ the image (the point was a person).

I started ‘Positioning a Point’ by reviewing some of my existing images to look for points, and this swan represents a classic single point.  I placed it where I did to allow it to look into the frame and to emphasise the isolation and distance away from me in the mist.

A green woodpecker in the snow is larger in the frame but is still a valid single point.  It was exposed to blow out the whites of the snow so the bird appeared isolated against a pure white background.  The bird was placed to allow it to look into the image and the tension provided between the woodpecker and the bottom left hand corner of the frame where the virtual tail is located anchors it to the border of the photograph. 

The final image I found in my collection that was a single point was this sunflower.  Although more of a complex background than the other two images, it is still a good example of a point, and especially of one that is set slightly off centre.  The mild diagonal of the stem suggested the positioning of the flower head in the top right quadrant of the image and the placement makes it a far more dynamic composition that had it been placed centrally in the frame.

The exercise requires three images to be taken with a single point in the positions described previously and to ‘consider the graphic relationship that the points have with the frame’.  Freeman (2007) argues that “A point has two basic relationships with the frame.  In one, there are implied forces that are in proportion to its distance from each corner and side.  In the other implied lines suggest a vertical and horizontal division of the frame”.  This is vitally important as it clearly defines the impact that an image containing just a single point will make.
My first ‘point’ was a pair of new lambs together.  I placed these at the top right of the image as I thought it was essential for the left hand animal to have space be looking into the frame as that was the clear direction of the eye line.  Freeman (2007) would qualify this as ‘slightly off centre’ and he states that the design effect in this instance to be “moderately dynamic without being extreme”.  I think in my example the left hand lamb looking across the frame and the right hand one looking directly ‘down’ the frame defines a clear division of the frame.

My next ‘point’ was a central placement, a position which is usually claimed to be “static and visually dull” according to Freeman (2007). In this case I looked for a subject which had a reason to be in the centre of the frame and specifically took this image of an approaching tufted duck as I felt that the equal bow waves on either side of the bird anchored it in the middle of the photograph, although the fact that the bird is looking to the side of frame gives it more of a dynamic edge for a central placement than it perhaps would have had if it had been looking directly forwards.

My final ‘point’ was a vertical frame with a moored boat placed to the left and well towards the edge of the frame.  My rational for this position was that the angle of the boat and its reflection lead the eye across the fame from the left and that the boat needed space on the right to be ‘moving’ in to.  The angles of the boat, its anchor chains, the bank and the water line all lead the view across the frame and creating tension between the boat and the left hand side of the frame seemed to give the most dynamic image.

This exercise really made me think about positioning and exactly what effect and feeling I was trying to create in each photograph.  I have mentioned before that many of my wildlife images are of single subjects where positioning in the frame is critical to give the subject any sort of dynamic quality and that I sometimes fail in this regard, so this exercise has been a valuable lesson in considering the specific dynamic qualities of the subject in each photograph.

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