Photographer Jim Zuckerman explains how the direction of a subject's movement in relation to the image frame can make a photograph more engaging in the eighth article of his sixteen-part series on composition.
Jim Zuckerman's images and articles on photography have been featured in hundreds of publications, and he has taught at many institutions, as well as through his own workshops. He is the author of 22 books on photography. To learn more about his work and subscribe to his emagazine, visit his website.
Photographs © 2009, Jim Zuckerman. All rights reserved.
One of the traditional compositional guidelines that many artists and photographers adhere to is that a subject’s movement should be going toward the center of the frame. You can see this method of composing an image in 8.1. I placed the wood stork on the left side of the frame, and it is flying toward the imaginary vertical centerline of the image. Similarly, 8.2 shows that I placed the dominant tall ship on the left side of the picture and it’s pointed toward the center as well.
Can there be exceptions to this guideline? Of course. This is art, after all. The pelican in 8.3 shows the bird flying out of the frame, and it’s a strong composition. However, according to a classic rule of composition, the subject should be moving toward the center of the picture. It’s a compositional choice that will virtually always be considered correct, but that doesn’t mean other approaches won’t be valid as well. It is a safe bet, though, that making the direction of movement toward the middle of the picture will be compositionally pleasing.
The subject doesn’t have to be literally moving to make this idea work, however. For example, if a person, an animal, or even a statue is simply looking left or right, the gaze should be directed toward the center of the image. This keeps a viewer’s attention contained within the picture, as opposed to having it wander outside the perimeter of the image.
The computer composite 8.4 shows the model looking toward the center of the image. Interestingly, the scarlet ibis is also flying toward the center, but from the opposite direction. Even when you are working in Photoshop putting images together, the same compositional and artistic rules apply.
The horse and rider composite, 8.5, was put together with the same idea in mind. The movement goes toward the center, leaving all that negative space on the top and left to balance the subject. The cowboy leading the group of horses (8.6) shows the same thing, although in this case the background foliage works just like the negative space of the sky.
If you want to artistically blur the movement, the subject can still be composed such that its movement is in the direction of the middle of the frame. I photographed the cyclist below (8.7) in a road race and did this.
Go to the next article in this series: Patterns
Read the full series:
- The Rule of Thirds
- Leading Lines
- Graphic Design
- Classic Landscape Technique
- Moving into the Frame
- Distinctive Perspectives
- Light's Influence
- Negative Space
- Breaking the Rules