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Implied movement & The Golden Section

Implied movement

A photograph freezes a moment in time, which is great if your subject is a stationary object or person, but what if your subject is moving? How can you capture movement in a still photograph?

There is a technique involving a slow shutter speed and panning the camera to follow the movement, but it’s difficult to master and only works about one time in ten anyway. Far easier is freezing the action with a nice fast shutter speed, and using a subtle compositional trick to simulate movement.

The trick is very simple. Just position the moving subject within the frame so that it appears that it is moving into the middle of the picture. For example, if you are photographing a car moving from the right to the left, position it on the right of the frame so that it is moving inward towards the centre, leaving room in the frame into which the car could move. The best way to illustrate this effect is with a couple of examples. Take a look at this shot:

Here the car is positioned incorrectly, and appears to be about to drive out of the picture. There is a lot of empty space on the right of the picture, and it looks awkward and unbalanced.

In this shot, the car is moving into the picture, giving it better balance and a dynamic feeling of speed and movement. If you look at pictures by professional sports photographers, you’ll see this technique applied to everything from sailing boats to football players.

The Golden Section

And finally we come to the bit I’ve been dreading, trying to explain one of the oddest things in the universe without resorting to mathematics: the Golden Section, also known as the Golden Mean, Golden Ratio, or Golden Rectangle. I think it’s the ‘Golden’ bit that’s important.

The Golden Section is a rectangle whose shape, that is the ratio of its length to its height, is supposedly the most visually pleasing to the human eye. Take a look at this motley collection of rectangles, and try to pick the one that you find to be the most attractive, or at least the one that is easiest on the eye.

If you picked B, then congratulations, you are clearly a person of exquisite taste, with a finely tuned appreciation for art and culture. If you picked one of the others then you probably watch too much TV and don’t get enough exercise. Shame on you.

The Golden Section has been known since ancient times, and has been used in art and architecture all over the world. Probably the most famous example is the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, the ancient temple to the goddess Athena. The front elevation of the building follows the ratios of the Golden Section precisely.

The ratio of the Golden Section is derived from a mathematical formula that I won’t go into here. If you want to know more about it, I’d recommend the Wikipedia article on the subject which can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Ratio

The golden ratio is found throughout the natural world in structures such as snail shells and the position of branches around the stem of a plant and even the ideal proportions of the human body, as well as in many great works of art, including paintings and sculptures by Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Turner, Seurat, Salvador Dali and Mondrian.

Its application to photographic composition is related to the Rule of Thirds that I explained in last month’s tutorial. By composing a photograph so that areas of interest fall on the intersection points of the squares that make up the Golden Section rectangle, or so that lines in the image follow the lines of the spiralling squares, a visually pleasing composition can be achieved.

This is, unfortunately, very difficult to accomplish. Although many natural phenomena do follow the 1:1.618 ratio, the frame of your photograph does not. Most cameras shoot at an aspect ratio of either 4:3 or 2:3, whereas the Golden Section is closer to 5:3, so you’ll need to crop your image to achieve a Golden Section rectangle. If you can compose your image in the viewfinder so that it follows the Golden Section when cropped then you have truly achieved Black Belt status in photography, and your camera-fu is strong.

I’ve got literally thousands of photographs on my hard drive, and I could find only a few that follow this rule. Here’s one of them, a picture of Corfe Castle in Dorset. If you look at the image without the lines, you’ll probably find that your eye is drawn to the base of the tower and that interesting looking doorway. As you can see from the second picture, this is exactly where the centre of interest of the Golden Section construction lies.

As I said at the start of this section, these composition techniques are only guidelines. They are useful to know, and keeping them in mind when you’re taking photos will help you to take better pictures, but they aren’t written in stone. Use them, adapt them, or ignore them completely and make up your own. As long as you enjoy your photography, that’s all the matters.

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