Second Line Squared

In the middle of things.

Once upon a time I made pictures like this one every Sunday. I retired from the streets a few years ago mostly for health reasons, but after seven years I felt like the project ran its course. You work and you work and you work and one day you just know. You might still go out for a week or two, but it’s not the same.

The picture illustrates how I work, which is to say, very closely. It was made with a wide angle lens. It is sharp from front to back. Look for yourself. The drummer looking at me is as sharp as the woman way in the back by the fence. That’s even a little sharper than I usually like. I like to keep the front sharp while letting the background drop off.

But, that’s just me. There are certainly many ways to skin a cat. At least compositionally. I like cats. No matter what the newbie photographers say about rules, they exist. They exist for a reason. Of course you can break them. I think you should learn them, test them, use them before you break them. They might actually help your photography.

The rule that is the biggest offender is the “Rule of Thirds.” Basically, it’s just a mathematical expression for how manny things appear in nature. Even our bodies are divided into thirds to a point.

Photographs look better when you loosely follow the rule. They gain movement, they gain direction. Your eye has a direction to follow. While many Asian artists do drop the subject right the middle of their work, they have a completely different set of design sensibilities than we, in the west, do. Westerners typically see things in approximately thirds.

There are other so-called rules. There is the “Reverse S” shape starting at the upper in the upper right hand corner leading to the bottom left corner. This moves your eye from right to left. If you position a subject along the “S” your eye will find it.

A third rule is “The Fibonacci Sequence.” It too, is a mathematical expression of something occures in nature. It sort of looks like the shape of a mollusk shell and is related fairly closely to “The Golden Mean” This math is ancient beginning with Indian (From Indian) that is found in Sanskrit at about 450 BC. Yes. It’s really old.

The “Golden Mean” is even older than the Fibonacci Sequence. It’s a Pythagorean Theory, which means from the days of Ancient Greece.

Once again, the new photographers started to howl, but not as you would expect. They laid a template of the sequence over everything, stretching or bending the math to suit the artwork. That’s not how it works.

There’s a lot more to discuss about the mathematics of design, but how much algebra and calculus do you really want to submit to?


No more.



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