Compositional Techniques in Photography: Creation of Volume in The Frame

In this article we’ll discuss about compositional techniques in photography and creation of volume in the frame. Art often arises where there is contradiction. A photograph is a flat, two-dimensional picture. And our world is three-dimensional. Therefore, the art of photography at birth was intended to solve the main problem: transferring the volume of the 3D world to a two-dimensional plane with the least loss. Photographers have been solving it for over 150 years, while artists have been solving it for several thousand years. But artists have an advantage: they can paint whatever they want, sometimes doing this throughout their lives. And photographers can be content with only what they see. But they also have some tools: linear, tonal and scale perspective, blur in the image (DOF), etc.

The British designate the process of photographing as “to take a picture”, which literally means “to take a picture.” Just take, not do! Very subtly noticed. Indeed, photographers take what they see and make an imprint on their matrix or film. And how they will do it, how they will build the composition, where they will make the blur zone – the result of photography depends on this. Let’s explore each perspective and see how it changes the shot.

Tonal Perspective in Photography

Only vacuum can be transparent. Air cannot be transparent, since it consists of many molecules of different sizes, density and weight. The quality characteristics of the air directly depend on the particles it contains: humidity, dustiness, manifestation of various weather conditions.

The less transparent the air, the brighter the appearance of tonal perspective. Photographers love to shoot fog, dusty or windy weather in the steppe or desert, water at dawn. All these phenomena are based on the fact that the further away the object, the less distinct and clearer it looks, the less its saturation, it seems less contrasting and lighter.

The next photo shows how tonal perspective is realized in one of its most striking manifestations – in the morning fog. The far frame of the frame has become completely light, its colors and objects are desaturated, the outlines are practically blurred, the contrast in the background is close to zero.

Compositional Techniques in Photography
Compositional Techniques in Photography

Linear Perspective Effect

Linear perspective is formed by lines that tend to a single point on the horizon or infinity. Bridges, distant roads, railings, terraces, curbs, colonnades, power lines, houses, etc. All of this serves as the basis for linear perspective. Landscapes often contain linear perspective.

Compositional Techniques in Photography
Compositional Techniques in Photography

How does linear perspective manifest itself in a still life or macro-plot?

Compositional Techniques in Photography
Compositional Techniques in Photography

In the shot with a droplet, a linear perspective is presented, which is formed by a plant leaf, and the blurring of the point of connection of the leaves adds depth, volume to the composition. The drop is located exactly according to the rule of thirds, at the point of visual attention.

Using A Large-Scale Perspective

The essence of large-scale perspective is to reduce homogeneous objects: the further the object, the smaller it is in the image.

Compositional Techniques in Photography
Compositional Techniques in Photography

In this image, we see a combination of two perspectives: linear and scale. The sequentially changing scale of the pieces of dried silt gives the image volume, this brings it closer to a three-dimensional image. It is not in vain that landscapes are shot with wide-angle lenses with a focal length of 17-18 mm. These lenses distort the foreground, making objects appear illusorily convex. They are much better at drawing the perspective and scale of objects than long-focus ones, which, as it were, “capture the image, leaving the foreground flat due to their narrow angle of view.

With a wide angle of view (about 70 degrees), wide-angle lenses provide sharpness throughout the shot with a smaller aperture value, which is useful in low light conditions. We will talk about sharpness further.

This kind of perspective can be successfully applied in still life, ensuring the rhythm of removal of homogeneous objects. In the next picture, we see two kinds of perspective: scaled and linear. In the foreground is a spool of thread that enhances the sense of volume, like a small DOF, of depth of field.

Compositional Techniques in Photography
Compositional Techniques in Photography

Depth of Field (DOF)

Another way to provide volume in a composition is to blur the background or part of the image. This can be achieved by adjusting the aperture: the smaller the aperture value, the more blurry the part of the picture located closer and / or farther from the point of focus (focus point) will be.

Depth of field can be calculated mathematically. This is written in many specialized articles. But for experience, it is preferable to use the eye. Depth of field is defined as the distance between the closest and farthest objects, which at a given aperture opening will be sharp.

DOF depends on the following factors:

  1. Distance to the object (the greater it is, the greater the depth of field and vice versa);
  2. On the linear size of the matrix (not the number of megapixels): the smaller the size of the matrix, the greater the depth of field (this can be taken into account in macro shooting, if you need more depth of field).
  3. From the value of the f-number (the smaller it is, the smaller the depth of field and vice versa);
  4. From the focal length of the lens: the smaller it is, the greater the DOF (at the same distance to the object).

An image with a dew drops on the leaves has the following characteristics:

  • focal length is 105 mm;
  • the aperture is 8.0 (Nikon D300 camera, Nikkor 105 / 2.8 lens);

The depth of field in this case was 5-10 mm, the distance between the lens and the object was about 30-40 cm. It follows from this that when photographing a larger object at a distance of 20 meters, the depth of field will be approximately equal to 5 meters.

Thus, at a distance of 20 m with an aperture of 15.0 and a focal length of 20 mm, the DOF will be throughout the entire frame, starting from 3 meter from the lens to the very horizon. For a more complete understanding of the described processes, we suggest looking deep into the camera to understand what the diaphragm controls.

The diaphragm is a special device in the form of retractable petals inside the lens, the synchronous movement of which adjusts the diameter of the hole that lets light through inside the camera. The narrower the hole, the sharper the image. The amount that the aperture blades protrude is its value.

Diagram 5.6 is when the petals are at minimum and the hole is large, so the depth of field will be the smallest, part of the image will remain blurred.

With an aperture of 20.0, the blades are significantly larger, the opening is smaller, therefore, the sharpness will be greater. It will be throughout the entire frame if you shoot a landscape with a wide-angle lens and take the frame in general. With an aperture value of 20.0, even the beams of the flashlights will look like stars.

If you are the owner of an advanced soap dish (i.e. a camera with a non-replaceable lens) or a SLR camera (digital or film), then when you change the aperture values, changes in sharpness can be seen in the eyepiece or on the camera display. This information should be trusted by examining the result on the display of the camera after taking the picture. In addition to the visual volume of the image, blur can also control the viewer’s attention, which is very important in compositional photography:

Compositional Techniques in Photography
Compositional Techniques in Photography

The photo was three-dimensional due to the blurred background, which made the model stand out. To study the picture in more detail, its characteristics will help:

  • the focal length of the lens was 150mm;
  • the diaphragm is 4.5;
  • the distance to the model was several meters, depth of field is 15-25 cm, the background is blurred as much as possible (it was a cobblestone pavement).

These examples allowed us to understand how to construct a shot so that the frame does not look flat, to control the volume of the frame. But there is no need to memorize these rules. As in many situations, exceptions are possible and the master, as a creative person, has the right to choose: to create volume in the picture or not. Take a look at this laconic shot. Here the volume would simply “destroy” the very idea of the snapshot:

Compositional Techniques in Photography
Compositional Techniques in Photography

Forest ripples on the water only hint at a linear perspective. The photographer decides for himself which tools to use to build the composition. Critics will later call his decisions mediocrity or artistic taste, style or genius.

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