What Photography Instructors Fail to Teach

January 26, 2019

What Photography Instructors Fail to Teach is that there is more to composition than they will admit.  While the last few years have been full of adversity in my life, it has given me time to study things I might not otherwise study.  One of those things is art.

Most photographers view photography as a form of art.  There is no doubt that it is, but if you are going to call it art, it should be treated as art.  Instead, many photographers stick to the same old concepts of photographer:  Rule-of-thirds, leading lines, "Rembrandt" lighting, etc.

I discovered in my drawing class that composition is best described using what the professor called the "artist's armature".  This criss crossing of lines can justify most any composition.  Yet, I have never, ever, no, not once heard it mentioned in photography classes.  Bringing this topic up on a photography online forum only drew the ire of many dyed-in-the-wool photographers.

 This "armature" is created by drawing diagonal lines from opposite corners.  Then, you draw lines from each corner to the mid-point of the page.  Next, draw lines where these lines intersect (I just realized, I left out the center vertical line in the above example.)

In the armature you can see lines for direction, horizons, vertical structures, impact points, etc.  You can also kind of pick out the rule-of-thirds (one of many possibilities in the composition), leading lines, and more.  In fact, our professor pointed out there is a rule-of-fourths, as well as a rule-of-fifths, etc.

I like how one photographer put it.  He said, "You think you know the rule-of-thirds?  Now, up your game and learn the rule-of-fourths."  Yet, he is one of the only photographers I've ever heard talk about the "rule-of-fourths".

I overlaid this armature on may great works of art.  Below you see DiVinci's Last Supper.  What do you notice about the armature and how it plays in to the composition.  I'll point out a few things I see.

  1. Jesus is center - NOT on a 1/3rd!!!  IN addition, the crossing of all lines that pass through the center are near his heart.  (Interesting, eh?)
  2. The Apostles are cluster in groups of three inside significant diamonds in the armature.
  3. The center of the top of the table has multiple intersections.

You might see more, but off the top, those are the ones I notice.

Here's another example:

Bouguereau has also positioned his subjects within these triangles.  (I have heard other artists refer to the armature as "triangles".)  These lines and their crossings play a significant role in the pleasing composition of this image.

Thus, there is a lot about composition photographers fail to teach.  So, before being critical of an image because it doesn't follow the rule-of-thirds (or any other compositional rule you may hold to), think about the armature.

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