Thursday, April 16, 2009

Surfing off-centre

click photo to enlarge
One of the main things that distinguishes the photographs of the enthusiastic amateur (and the professional) from those of the casual snapper is the position of the main subject in the frame. The average person taking a shot of a child, a spouse, the family dog, or their holiday hotel will usually place the focus of their attention in the centre of the composition. It's a natural thing to do because it gives the greatest possible recognition to the subject, and stresses its importance.

Someone whose hobby is photography, or someone who seeks to earn money from their images, will also compose in this way, but will frequently deliberately avoid doing so. Why is this? Well, there' s the desire to avoid the obvious (some would say cliche), and the attendant urge to be "different." There's also the feeling that a centre-dominant composition asks less of the viewer, and doesn't offer as much by way of intellectual stimulation compared with one that positions the main subject elsewhere. And, importantly, there's the creative urge to place the main subject off-centre in a way that links with the rest of the composition. This particular device is one that tests the creativity and ingenuity of the photographer. In summary, it presents the viewer with a visual "problem" (asymmetry) that is brought under control and resolved by the disposition of the other elements of the composition. It's a technique that painters have been familiar with for hundreds of years - look at, for example, Gainsborough's landscapes of trees and fields with a couple of figures, or a few cattle, in a bottom corner giving a nominal subject, a starting point for the viewer's eyes, and compositional balance for his real interest.

Today's photograph is the first I've taken of a surfer, though I did take one of a kite-boarder a couple of years ago. The main subject is placed at the top right, about as far away from the centre as it's possible to be, but is connected to the bottom half of the image by the serpentine lines of the breaking waves. They act as "leading lines" taking the viewer's eye to the surfer, and also, very handily, surround and give emphasis to him. In fact, the photograph is more about the patterns and tones of the water than the surfer, but it doesn't work without him as the indispensable main subject.

photograph & text (c) T.Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 40mm (80mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/1000 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On