Lessons from above 

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This photo reminds me that trees are to kids as flowers are to bees. It’s a simple snapshot of my friends’ children, however it does illustrate nine brief but useful points:

The bad points

1) The sky is blown out (overexposed, pure white). However, it’s a snapshot rather than fine art, and this case it doesn’t bother me too much. There wasn’t a lot of time before the girls moved on so it was best to make the most of the opportunity, even if that meant losing the sky: family members will probably just look at the faces and be oblivious to the background.

2) I used fill flash and overall that gave a very nice result. The one thing that a camera’s built-in flash is good for is fill light, but if people are wearing glasses you’ll often get a reflection, as in this case. I have tried cloning out such reflections, with mixed results. In this case grabbing an external flash and extension cord would have meant missing the shot, however that is often the best solution (if you hold the flash away to the right of the camera the reflection coming from the glasses will go off to the left, where the camera can’t see it).

The good points

3) You’ll notice that I’ve placed one foot in a corner of the photo, with a roughly equal amount of space to the left of and below the boot. A diagonal that runs to a point near the corner of the frame usually looks odd, but one that runs to the actual corner will usually look pleasing. In the case it’s almost as if she’s resting her foot on the edge of the photo, and that plus the diagonal running to the corner results in the edges of the frame becoming a contributing part of the image rather than some sort of hanger-on messing up the scene.

4) If the bottom of the photo was bright would tend to pull your eye away from the faces, but instead the area below the main branch is fairly dark and forms a nice solid base.

5) The centreline of the girls’ torsos and faces are roughly aligned with the verticals of a thirds grid (the rule guide of thirds).

6) Fill flash has raised the brightness of the faces to a point that matches the surroundings well, and there are nice catchlights in the eyes.

7) Generally you need to include the ground in order to give a sense of height, but in this case looking up a steep angle towards the girls has the same effect. Adults aren’t used to looking up at kids, and this unusual view of a common subject adds interest to the photo.

8) The diagonal of the branch that the girls are sitting on adds life to the photo. Lines affect the mood of photos.

9) There is a vertical branch between the girls and such an object has the potential to break any sense of relationship. However, they are both holding the branch in such a way that the branch in fact ties them together and makes it clear to us the viewers that these two are friends.

This was a situation where I had a few seconds in which to get a shot. The girls know me well and chose to strike a pose, which thankfully was a nice one: the fact that I didn’t give any direction makes the result look fairly natural and relaxed. With snapshots of family and friends the people are the most important thing, but it’s also good to look for snapshots in places where the environment adds to the image.

How lines affect the mood of photos

Emotion is an important factor in many types of photography, and controlling the direction of the dominant lines in your photos will help you when you want to create a mood. This effect will be strengthened if other components of the image such as lighting reinforce the effect of lines, e.g. soft, warm lighting with restful lines or dramatic lighting with dynamic lines. There are three line directions to consider (clicking on a photo will enlarge it):

vertical lines affecting the mood of a photo

Vertical lines give a sense of strength, and here the solidity of the objects reinforces this.

digaonal line affecting the mood of a photo

Diagonal lines are dynamic, lively and energetic, giving a sense of motion. Here the man's pose contributes to the dynamic feel because it is obvious that he is working (work is output of energy). Also, when objects in an image have the potential to fall - in this case the arms, upper body, and diagonal pole - they add life to the image. I cropped the photo so that the pole went from corner to corner, which harmonised the diagonal with the frame and gave the strongest possible diagonal line.

horizontal lines affecting the mood of a photo

Horizontal lines create a feeling of passivity and restfulness. Here the warm, soft, cosy light works together with the horizontal lines.

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