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MobiWorkshop MW7 - the Graphic Design game

FundyBrian

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No ball or skipping rope required.
When I say Graphic Design is a game photographers can play I mean it is an exercise people can use to sharpen their sense of composition. But it didn’t start that way. It started as a way to play with basic shapes found every day in all manner of subjects. First you find the shapes and then you see how it can be composed in the most satisfying way in your photo area.
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This photo shows how an arrangement of three things can imply a triangle in your composition. When you see it as a triangle it gives you a better sense of the distribution of visual mass in an image.

Let’s start by looking at some basic shapes.
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Your standard enclosed shapes: squares, rectangles, circles, eclipses, triangles. You’ll find them everywhere as you walk about.
Buildings are full of rectangles and squares. Strong and steady. Square corners.
The sun and moon look like circles in the sky. Ponds are often round-ish, or elliptical. Dinner plates are usually circular. As you look at circles from an angle they become eclipses. We often simplify flowers to circles in a quick sketch.
Triangles are everywhere, too, but it takes more looking. Often we see triangles in the arrangements of three things, like flowers, as in my first photo. The wide side of a triangle has the most stable base. An upsidedown triangle, standing on its point won’t say up, without support. Which tells you something about using a triangle in composing a picture.

Then there’s straight lines.
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Horizontal lines are stable, solid, restful. The horizon. A fallen tree can fall no further than flat on the ground, finally at rest. If you fell asleep on your feet how would you end up?
Vertical lines imply some sort of tension. Some force is required to hold them up or they would fall down and join the horizontal lines in their lying about. Vertical lines represent strength and dignity, an upright bearing.
Oblique lines are dynamic. They imply action and speed. The fastest way from the bottom of your image to the top is by an oblique line - zip, there you are.

Now for some curved lines.
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Fairly horizontal curved lines are like the undulating landscape, pretty stable. Elegant, more artistic than a straight line.
Curved lines are slower than oblique lines, but more graceful, too. You often see this type of curve in plant stems. Meandering curves, or “S” curves are the slowest lines. When your photo is based on a meandering line you invite the viewer to explore your image slowly, enjoying the relaxed path through the image.

How to play the game: you look about to see what sort of basic shapes you can find. The subject matter doesn’t matter a bit. It is only the shapes we are interested in. Can’t find a plain shape? Take out a dinner plate and place it on the empty table. Just a circle in a wide open space. Now explore the ways you can look at that simple shape, different angles, different placements within the frame. Try a few photos of your shape and see if you can make a pleasing minimalist composition out of it. Consider the feeling of balance in the image, or dynamic tension.

Once you have explored composing a single simple shape try adding a secondary shape. Maybe another circle, but smaller, or a triangle. Two objects changes everything and you can make all sorts of compositions with two objects, shifting the importance of one over the other, changing the balance, etc.

Look through your existing photos for instances where you photographed a simple shape or made a composition based of a simple line or shape. Post a few. Or make a few simple compositions of things like a single plate on your table.

I’m sure you will find, as others have in the past, that when you play the Graphic Design game now and then you begin to see those shapes everywhere, in your landscape images, in pictures of flowers, in abstracts, everywhere. And while you might not find the Graphic Design pictures very exciting beyond finding the shapes and seeing how you can compose them nicely, that you will begin to make more conscious use of things like leading lines in landscapes or shapes in nature close-ups. It sharpens your seeing and does wonders for your sense of composition.

The very core of composition is your ability to abstract - or to be able to see the essential simple shapes that make up your subject. Often a scene can seem complex until you begin to see the simple shapes at the heart of it. As soon as you begin to use the simple shapes and leading lines in a scene you will find everything makes sense and the way to compose it becomes clear.
 

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RoseCat

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Interesting concept! I know about the rule of thirds, but never (consciously anyway) thought about applying shapes.
 

rizole

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Here's one of mine that I think works well because of shapes. As well as all the leading lines pointing at the horizon there are 3 objects that overlay a triangle.

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Another design thing I like in pics is planes.
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So in this one the line of people create a spacial plane across the pic where as the road and far side create a couple going in a different direction.
I particularly like this one by Martin Parr because he creates a couple of intersecting planes almost by suggestion imo.
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The three men create an obvious one. The second is created by the boy's movement across the image before it was even taken. And even though the boy is looking right at the camera, his head is turned even further round so it's pointing in the same direction as the plane made by the line of men.
 

RoseCat

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I was searching my camera roll trying to find shapes... and it was harder than I thought it would be. o_O

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Diamond
Snapseed
 

FundyBrian

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One of the nicest compositional forms is a curve. Curves are everywhere in landscape. These would be called leading lines. You could ignore the upper straight lines. The most important ones are the two beach lines. Either one you follow, they both lead to the same place. They both end within the frame. This is important if you don’t want to guide the viewers eye right out of the picture. A curved line is slower than a straight line. You spend more time following it within the frame to get where it’s going.

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No need to mark the lines here. They all radiate from some imagined point at the lower left and sweep upwards to the right. There is some danger here in the viewer’s eye running off the picture to the right, but at least the upper curves end at the top of the frame at such a trajectory that the eye is likely to circle around to the right and be led back to the starting point.

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These leading lines are meandering into the distance and end inside the picture. We can only guess what lies around the bend. The eye my follow an imagined line behind the trees going left and explore the row of birches along the way and hopefully arc around left and back to the bottom for another go.

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Straight leading lines are very fast. These ones all point to the main feature in the background. The primary foreground lines also form a triangle which makes a stable base. The distribution of visual mass in the triangle has the top,at the upper right third area with the opposite side of the triangle reaching farther left to balance the weight.

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This one is primarily a simple arc with the focal point in the upper right third area. In terms of visual mass it helps to imagine it as a triangle. The two points on the right are not as far from centre as the balancing leg on the opposite. Most of the mass is in the right third area so it requires a counterbalancing longer leg on the o-polite to maintain balance.

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This is how I visualized the shape in the frame as I composed it. Sort of a curved triangle. The greater mass starting out on the left needs to be counterbalanced by the upper point of the triangle being offset to the right.
 

FundyBrian

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I saw something in this scene in tems of shape and line that the capture doesnt quite reflect but here it is anyway.
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Yes I can sort of see some unrealized potentials happening here. Maybe some more exploring angles might have solidified it. And maybe it just suggests the possibility of togetherness without it ever quite getting there. Interesting, though.
 

FundyBrian

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Something circular to work with.
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There is a sort of yin-yang opposite mirroring of the curved shape (red) on the beach and the blue area cut out of the clouds. Those two areas are handshaking. Next there is the eclipse formed by the puddle area in the sand. Looking down from the top it would be almost round but from this low angle it appears elliptical. The scooped out area and puddle have an implied direction pointing at the distant headland giving that front to rear connection, but diagonally. The rock sitting in the puddle falls right along this implied direction line and leads the two areas in the direction of the headland..
 
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