June 24, 2012

A Short Vocabulary Of Composition

June 24, 2012
For the sake of simplicity, let’s have popcorn as a subject. It hosts fascinating visual attributes: irregular shapes, weightlessness, whiteness, volume, multitude, dryness, crunchiness, tenderness, puffiness... It is associated with leisure, free time, parties, picnic and cinema. Pop corn is an inexpensive, quick and easy snack. The cooking method of popping is adventurous. The taste is mild and bland but enlivened by salt, butter, spices or sweetness.

The power of photographing food is in a non-verbal transmission of the qualities it presents. More we observe and interact with the subject, more material we have to work with. The qualities offer unlimited inspiration for styling and lighting. They are exposed by identical, similar or contrasting compositional details.

The process of photographing becomes personal when we ask: what is it about the subject that attracts and interests me; what is the goal of capturing it; how will it be reached? A well shot image is taken with the presence of mind. It gives voice to the internal conversation between the photographer and the elements. An inability to be individually involved – namely, copying and imitating others – is caused by a lack of understanding relationships. It focuses on the result instead of the process. Even if the objects are arranged according to the rules of composition, such an image remains mute: the story is tainted by a dissonance.

How a photograph is interpreted by others depends, besides its creative and functional merits, on the viewers’ set of values and ability to read visual cues. In order to introduce some of the vocabulary of composition, I will analyse the images taken of popcorn today.
1popcorn2popcorn
Some photographers sketch before shooting. Many select props and arrange the set. I do neither. However, a mental image of the scene often develops while I’m cooking. I may notice new things about the ingredients, preparation or environment that I want to bring out. But when I grab the camera, it is like standing on the edge of a dock, and then, with a trusting heart, plunging into the depth of water. I renounce control, and accept and communicate with whatever is around at the moment.

Since popcorn is light by nature, I wanted to balance it with something heavy. There is nothing more dense than black. To soften the tonal separation, I smudged the background with chalk, pinned a piece of paper on it and added a couple of colourful props on the table. It defines the colour-theme for the rest of the post: white, grey, black, brown and some drops of colour.

The right side is darker, silent, empty and weights more. It has a harmonic dialogue with the left side that is lively and busy. The horizontal format leaves a lot of breathing space within the frame and offers a peaceful mood.

There are several visible and invisible leading lines that direct attention to and keep it on the subject: the smudges; the edges of the table; the order and direction of the elements.

Three-dimensionality is shown by a strong horizontal line, a clear distinction between the foreground and background, and the shadows.

Details are tiny and often clever additions that support the centre of interest. A few drops of salt on the table suggest it is used with the popcorn. The odd dishes, strange piece of paper and tilted glass indicate it is a less serious occasion. My dive into the deep waters was all about fun today!
3popcorn4popcorn
Variety keeps the subject fresh. An engaging illustration approaches the topic from different angles and moods. Contrast embellishes unity, just like separation enhances reunion.

A while ago my husband surprised me by volunteering to help by posing or clicking. To have people, or even body parts (wow, it sounds cadaver!), in a picture makes it easier to relate to. It is an interest boost! Plus, it is wonderful to work with someone else.

Simplicity is one of the essential features of photography. The ability to convey a story with a minimum number of elements is the key of successful, interactive imagery. Fewer characters there are, more specific their roles and temperaments are. Every texture, crack, fold, form, size and hue...counts!
7popcorn6popcorn
Well paired images make a leap of plot without distracting the main narrative. The same rules and exceptions of composition apply to diptychs and single pictures.

There are prohibitions that are said to ruin an image. The location of the focus point is considered static and dull when in the centre, for example. However, an unexpected angle, situation or action may bring a dynamic outcome in spite of the doom. If we stare too intensely at the rules, we may miss unique opportunities and end up delivering boring and unexciting readings of reality that is never boring or unexciting! An intelligently executed chaos and disorder is a powerful tool in depicting harmony.

Paying attention to movement, direction and cropping is required. They either flatten or enforce the purpose.
9apopcorn9bpopcorn
These may not be high ranking photographs but reveal my focus is on living in light! Today I experienced the magic of popcorn by breathing through the camera. Never forget to live and have a jolly time while shooting! It is the foremost initial in the alphabet of composing.

Thank you.

34 comments:

  1. Great pictures, love the first one!

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  2. you make the humble popcorn look so sexy! beautiful!

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  3. What an enjoyable post! Speaking of your passion for photography with a touch of whimsy! Outstanding!

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  4. Beautiful words and accompanying pictures!

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  5. I shoot pictures instinctively... Your clicks are always wonderful!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  6. Beautifully written Lakshmi! The pictures are breath taking for sure.

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  7. Thanks for a peek at your thoughts.

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  8. it is such a pleasure to "hear" your thoughts and admire your visual artwork! Brilliant!

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  9. Such a beautiful pictures Lakshmi... brilliant and lovely writeup.

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  10. Vising your blog space is always a divine experience - calm, serene and soothing to the soul. Love your work, Lashmi.

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  11. Kudos to you Lakshmi!!! You have brought out the essence of the dismal popcorn so beautifully!!!

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  12. It is good to know your process of creation during photographing. It hepls me to understand how you do it so perfect.

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  13. Love the way you put this post into words and images - your style always emanates a tranquility that no one I know manages! <3!

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  14. http://anmati.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/microwave-spicy-popcorn/

    couldnnot stop from sharing this.

    loved your post and pics...

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  15. "An intelligently executed chaos and disorder is a powerful tool in depicting harmony."

    Marvelously worded! Thanks, always interesting perspectives.

    Heidi

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  16. Loved reading your thought process while photographing! Thanks for sharing...

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  17. I tried sketching and arranging props in advance but I always land up using something else. I like to imagine .. visualize and than play with the mood.
    Love this post Lakshmi, the words, the thoughts, the photos and of course the pop corns :)

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  18. lovely post lakshmi....thanks for sharing

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  19. such inspired and lovely compositions...i like that in the end you are having fun! pop-pop-popcorn!
    Cheers!
    ~Deirdre

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  20. Great post about composition and your process while shooting! Looking forward to read more posts like this! (or not... I am already enjoying a lot your work here, so... ;))

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  21. Love this post..
    It is such a wow to learn ur views on composition, a subject I deal everyday with..
    Gorgeous pictures!!
    Lakshmi, I want to ask you do you paint ur background urself , I love the off white background..It is so calming. What color u use?
    Beautiful!!!

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  22. I love this post! I was one of those people who wanted to know about your process when you asked for suggestions. It's great that you actually took peoples' suggestions.

    This was very interesting to read and your pictures are always amazing. Here I especially like the picture of the hands! You're right, it makes it much more interesting. I am definitely going to try to get someone's hands in my pictures at some point. That sounds bizarre but you know what I mean. :)

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  23. Hello! Your blog is such an inspiration! Thank you so much for your advice and beautifil photos!

    Greetings from Poland :)

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  24. Thank you for the feedback.

    Reem - yes, I paint the backgrounds. I usually use acrylic paints. Any hobby-style paint would do. The off-white background is very old wood painted thinly with acrylic white.

    Erin - I know what you mean! I once saw a short interview of a hand model. Believe me, there are people who are professional hand models! This particular one hadn't exposed her hands to fresh air for years by always wearing cloves, day and night. Boy, was she creepy!

    krewimleko - dzienkuje! In July I'm coming to Poland :-)

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  25. That's wonderful! So have a great stay here, in Poland! :) And come back with lots of photos to share :)

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  26. Oh my goodness, this post is amazing. So encouraging, informative, and fun. Really, I just want to give it [and you!] a hug. I love this space.

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  27. Sarah - the hug is well received :-)

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  28. Wow, that does sound creepy! And totally not needed. This hand model, for example, held the popcorn just beautifully while not being so extremely beautiful that I was distracted from the popcorn. :)

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  29. Thank you Lakshmi for this informative post. Very insightful :) Lots to learn from you.

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  30. totally loved this insightful journey into composition :)

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  31. I love it. I could taste the popcorn in the pictures. And I love your description of the photographic process.

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  32. I think the harmony you achieve is within your nature, Lakshmi! I love how you are able to explain the abstract. It is an achievement by itself. :)

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    Replies
    1. Both, harmony and disharmony, are in and around us, Harini. Balance is found when they compliment each others.

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