Photography is a keystone in visual design. Few things can capture a reader’s interest quite like an engaging photograph. Pictures draw a reader’s eye and, if done effectively, can direct attention to any point on a page the designer desires. Professional photographers have developed several techniques and standards to help beginners like me master the art.
The Rule of Thirds
It has been scientifically proven that pictures adhering to “the Rule of Thirds” are naturally more interesting to viewers. The rule of thirds is simple. We divide a photograph horizontally and vertically into thirds. The lines that divide these sections are effective focal points for viewers. The points where these lines intersect are the most attractive focal points of the photos.
Above is a photo that I took of the North Quad at Brigham Young University Idaho. Now take a quick look at the division of the photograph into the rule of thirds.
As you can see, I did my best to position the objects in the photo onto the division lines. The tree in the original photo is placed directly on the left vertical line, while the center of the table was placed as best I could on the intersection of the right vertical and the lower horizontal lines. This draws a viewer’s attention to those objects.
Below is a photograph taken by Simon Powell, a professional photographer. See how he positions his model along the right vertical division to draw your attention to her.
Leading lines are imaginary guides within our photographs directing us toward a focal object. Above is a picture I took in the Spori Art Museum. There are certainly better and more effective demonstrations of leading lines, but I am only learning, so forgive my incompetence.
See how the corners of the podium and the left edge of the informational poster direct your attention toward the guest book, and the corner of the floor guides you leftward toward the red exhibit.
Below is another photograph by professional, Simon Powell. Notice how the edges of the fields, the grass, the shore, and even some of the ripples on the sand all guide your eyes from the center of the photograph to the gazebo on the right. Mr. Powell is better at photography than I.
Range of Focus
Have you ever taken a photograph and the darn camera just makes everything blurry? It’s a common occurrence, and it can be very frustrating. Cameras use various mechanisms to focus in on subjects– sometimes the intended subject and sometimes, frustratingly, anything but the subject. However, the focus can be manipulated to great effect, creating some very very interesting pictures. This occurs more often than one might believe, even in movies. An effective use of this in film can be found in the recent release, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. During the opening credits, the Guardians fight an epic battle against an interdimensional space beast– entirely in the background. The camera chooses instead to focus on baby Groot, merrily dancing to a fun, bouncy 70’s hit. Groot remains in focus through the scene, while the intense fight rages behind him, blurry and out of focus.
Above is the photograph that, of the three posted, I’m most proud of (or perhaps least ashamed of). Taken, again, in the Spori Art Gallery at BYU-Idaho, the subject of the photograph is bold and in focus, while the background, including another exhibit further back, is blurred.
Following is yet another photograph by Simon Powell, utilizing the range of focus to maximum effect. Notice first that the cliffs in the background are completely out of focus. Then try to find the subject of the photo. Oddly enough, it’s not the model, but the shoes he is wearing. The shoes are crystal clear, while the model is a bit blurry- not overly so, but subtly.
So you see, these techniques can be used in every photograph you take to capture and direct your viewer’s attention. Even more astounding is that these techniques do not have to be used alone. Take a look back at the photo of the woman in the white dress. I used that picture to demonstrate the rule of thirds, but now that we’ve discussed range of focus, you can easily see that photograph utilizes this technique as well. Master these tools to help maximize your pictures’ effectiveness and interest, and you’re well on your way to becoming a professional designer!