Category Archives: 6 Dividing the frame

Exercise 10 Positioning the Horizon

1/200 at f/4 ISO 100

1/200 at f/4 ISO 100

My efforts for this exercise had a few false starts as weather and poor choice of locations prevented me capturing useful images on two occasions. I arrived home earlier than normal yesterday evening and was welcomed by a beautiful evening and so was able to take an appropriate set of images locally.

The exercise asks for a clear and unbroken horizon which is hard to find so I have selected a horizon which is clear and only broken by the undulation of the hills and a few trees, a typical scene on the Surrey and Hampshire borders.

Within the constraints of the exercise I endeavoured to capture four images that were as interesting as possible. Simply moving the horizon and the declaring the result to be poor seemed unhelpful. I always work in RAW to allow the greatest scope for post production work and, with these four images, that was important. In each case I created an inverted “S” curve on the foreground and then, with the exception of fig. 4 I used a mask to set a curve on the sky to darken the blues and to minimise burnt out highlights. There was also a bit of dodge and burn. I spent enough time on this to create images for display on a monitor or the web but it would take a little longer to do this really well and I do not believe the images are good enough to warrant that much effort.

1/1000 at f/3.5 ISO 100

Fig. 1 – 1/1000 at f/3.5 ISO 100

Fig.1. In this shot I have retained enough foreground to give some depth to the photograph. The sky is the best feature but I failed to get a good colour into the blues and overall it is a poor composition. This sky does not justify this amount of the frame.

Fig 2 1/1000 at f/3.3 ISO 100

Fig 2 – 1/1000 at f/3.3 ISO 100

Fig. 2. This is a better balance, although the immediate foreground is plain there is a nice light on the grass and the hedge to the left. The sky has some tonal variation and the pylon is starkly graphic against the clouds.

Fig. 3 - 1/400 at f3.5 ISO 100

Fig. 3 – 1/400 at f3.5 ISO 100

Fig. 3. The first point to get out the way is that this is a careless exposure. I had been using a wide aperture to take unrelated photos in the other direction whilst waiting for the light to fall in the way I wanted across the foreground. I should have significantly increased the depth of field to ensure that the foreground was sharply in focus. I find the blur distracting.

In terms of the horizon I find this a well balanced shot. It is probably just about 1/3 v 2/3 and the pylon neatly fits the sky. something more interesting in the foreground would have helped the composition and I had been hopeful that the sun would reach some part of the oast houses.

As mentioned previously, Thomas Smith (1797), the person credited with coining the phrase “the rule of thirds”  said that, in the paintings of the old masters, the sky often occupied a third and the land two thirds, and he found this ratio of two thirds to one third more pleasing that the precise formal half or any other proportion. In this case I agree.

Fig. 4 - 1/160 at f/3.5 ISO 100

Fig. 4 – 1/160 at f/3.5 ISO 100

Fig. 4. The sky is irrecoverably burnt out and an interesting foreground and light on the oast houses would have made this image work better. The position of the horizon would work for the right shot as there is real depth to the image. I like the way the shapes of the hills which are topped with sunlight, the strips of sun and shade and the converging lines all emphasise that the buildings have been tucked into a fold of the hills. The texture in the foreground is helpful as a counter point to the smooth textures of the more distant hills.

Each of the framing exercises have underlined good principles about selection. It is clearly vital to instinctively select the right framing especially when the light is changing quickly and the best shot might only be available for a few seconds.

I like to think that, in the past, I have regularly used the position of the horizon creatively and the sky is an exciting subject if there is just enough foreground to provide a sense of place or an appropriate balance. I also like low angled shots using a deep foreground to lead into the subject and have found this especially useful when photographing hills and mountains.

Exercise 09 Balance

Symmetrical Roman Balconies

Symmetrical Roman Balconies

This exercise involves selecting 6 of my own photographs and deciding how the balance works in each one. For each photograph it was necessary to identify the main points of balance, which could be shape, colour, tone, lines or any other elements. Then to draw a sketch of these parts and show how they relate to each other with a balance scale.

Having studied the course text and Michael Freeman’s (2007) ideas in The Photographer’s Eye and having spent a considerable time just looking at other photographers’ images I still found this a challenging task.

At one level I understand the concept of balance whereby a dominant large feature to the left can be balanced by a smaller feature to the right regardless of whether this is achieved by shape, colour, texture or tone but I feel I still need to better understand how this works when there is also depth to the image.  Here I have selected some images where the answer is simple and some where it appears harder to determine.

Fig. 1 Tractor

Fig. 1 Tractor


To start with Fig. 1 and a simple image of three men with a vintage tractor and harvester. I see a clear balance between the group of men on the left and the two large machines on the right which can be seen as one object or two. In addition the machinery forms a dominant triangle from bottom left to top right and the men and hazy background are in a balancing triangle on the left.

There is also a curve formed by the feet of the men, the tractor and the harvester which runs from front to back in the image.

Fig. 2 Dog in Rome

Fig. 2 Dog in Rome

dog-in-Rome-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X8214The dog in Rome photograph in fig.2 appears relatively straight forward. There are 4 shapes left to right, the dog, the couple and the two flower salesman. This gives a balance across the image. There is a strong line, the wall, running front to back and connecting the groups. This may be an over-complication as I can also see the image as just two groups, the couple with their dog as one group and the two salesman as the other.

I see the white shirt of the salesman as a balance to the nearly white dog and because all the other tones are much darker my eye moves back and forth from left to right between these two areas of brightness.

Fig. 3 Doorway

Fig. 3 Doorway

doorway-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6644In fig. 3 I specifically wanted to explore balance in a portrait frame. I sense that with many vertical compositions there are balances working both horizontally and vertically. In this example it is mostly horizontal with three strong groups left, centre and right but I also see the green window at the top as a counter balance to all the shapes in the bottom of the frame.

There are many textures in play here with a decaying stucco wall, the hard, dull, metal lamp post and the trunks and leaves on the trees. Complimentary colours also have a role with three shades of green left, right and top centre but overall I think it is the nearly symmetrical layout that is the most powerful feature.

Fig. 4 Chillies

Fig. 4 Chillies

chillies-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6628Fig. 4 is another vertical frame but seemingly simpler. There are two large blocks of colour and contrasting texture with the chillies at the top and the stone seat at the bottom. The man-made seat is nearly positioned in the horizontal centre but the chillies are off centre and a less regular shape so there is some tension between the solid/regular and the irregular pattern that is natural and less solid.

Fig 5. Sheep Dog

Fig 5. Sheep Dog

sheep-dog-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6264With Fig. 5 I have moved to an image that I found harder to analyse. To my eye there are two clear shapes – the dog and the sheep to the left as one and the sheep to the right as the other but because dog is distinctly  whiter I think he stands alone as an element and thereby making three elements in total. The dog is looking out of the frame whilst the sheep are intent on quenching their thirst and this strengthens his role as the dominant feature.

Fig. 6 The Shepherd

Fig. 6 The Shepherd

Shephard-&-Flock-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X5761Fig. 6 is harder still. There is one long shape formed by the shepherd and his flock and a second, smaller shape made by the left hand dog. This seems to be the main shape balance even though the long shape fills 70% of the horizontal plane.

However, I am more drawn to the direction the dog on the right is moving and the perception of direction that is formed by the receding flock. The dog to the left and the flock form a curve that flows away from the bottom right. This movement might be strengthened by the triangular mountain top right. I think this is an image that is balanced mostly by lines.


Fig. 7 Roccacalacsio

roccacalascio-with-shapes_D2X7552I found fig 7. the hardest to analyse. There are 4 strong shapes. The sky, the triangular rock and sheep to the left, the mountain ahead with its ruined castle and the white road complete with yet another shepherd. (If you photograph in the Abruzzi mountains you tend to have sheep and shepherds in many of your shots whether you wish to or not). I found it difficult to draw a balance scale and think that the balance comes from the two blocks of mountain and rocks divided by the white road which leads into the image and perhaps to the castle.

This was an excellent exercise that made me think long and hard about shape balance. I looked through a number of books and found that Freeman (2007) was the only author to hand who had anything to say on the subject. Internet research added little to my sources.

However, looking at photographs was far more useful and it is interesting to see how accomplished photographers instinctively seek and find shape balance. It is obviously clearer in black and white prints where shape and tone are dominant and the distraction of colour is removed. Cecil Beaton’s photograph of Quintin Hogg has a very clear and simple balance of the subject in a left hand frame and his smaller hat in a, more narrow, right hand frame.

Frederick Evans, On Sussex Downs, has divided the frame horizontally with the white road making a small dark area to the left and a large dark area to the right. His sky line is placed higher than the centre so we have three differing sized blocks divided by the road and the horizon. the trees break this skyline and stop the photograph being purely geometrical.

Robert Adams’ The Farmyard, has many elements spaced across the frame with a large building partly included to the left, then a telegraph pole, a tree and a silo. The last three are quite evenly spaced and the pole is linked into the tree with a white cylinder. Behind all of this the horizon is placed 2/3 down into the frame and everything is knitted together with the telephone lines. There are a lot of elements but the overall effect is very simple and restful, it is a tranquil scene.