|Katherine & Rama, |
Hood River Oregon, August, 2012
This week I have a brief discussion of the "rules" governing the best amount of headroom and nose room in a photograph. The important point is that these are not absolute, but they do provide great guides for effective portrait and landscape photography and as so often, it comes back to thirds.
|Beautiful Evergreen Dead Space|
I was reminded of this while editing pictures from Katherine and Rama’s wedding in Oregon last summer. Headroom refers to amount of space above a subjects head in a composition. Many people frame pictures of people with the head(s) dead center in the image. It makes sense since the faces are the essential focus of interest for the photo, but, as is true for so much of good composition, what makes intellectual sense does not often produce the best esthetic results. Too much room and the subject looks small against the large area of dead space hovering above. Too little and the top of the frame begins to look like an absolute ceiling, drawing the subject upward.
As is true in all portrait photography, the eyes are the key element rather than the top of the head and the location of the eyes usually defines the best amount of headroom. The final answer is a matter of taste, but in general the most pleasing results come from placing the subject where it looks most stable within the frame. Perception studies have been done using a single dot in a frame to define the neutral point. This is the location where the dot seems to be at rest rather appearing to be drifting either to the center or the sides. the result is that images generally look best with the eyes about 1/3 down from the top of the frame. This should sound familiar since it is just another manifestation of the classic Rule of Thirds. Ok, if it didn't work so well, the Rule of Thirds might seem like an overly constraining edict. You should feel free to be a rebel and break the rules whenever you want - I'm not your mother. But it is good to understand the rules that you are breaking, and the Rule of Thirds is at least a good departure point for many compositions. Why else would I have placed in capitals?
Research aside, it just looks better. Moving away from these comfortable neutral locations can add a bit of creative tension to
|Mountains Have It Alberta, |
Valley of the Ten Peaks, Alberta, Canada
The Nose Knows!
|Eagles on the Connecticut River, Vermont|
|The Gaze; the Eyes Have It|
|Nazca Boobie: Flight Room|
The Hills are Alive: And Have Heads and Noses
Without an animal in site, nose and headroom can still be important in landscape images. Decisions about how much sky to include in a photo and whether trees should be cut off can have a significant effect on how the subject and flow of an image is emphasized. How much sky to include is often affected by the interest in the sky itself. When the sky is a bland, gray, I try to crop out most or all of the dead
space, but sometimes the sky IS the story. Strong landscape compositions usually have a clear direction of flow which requires its own "nose room". As a viewer’s gaze follows the flow it can be uncomfortable to have that gaze run unbuffered into the side of the frame. In the image of Darling Hill Road in Lyndonville Vermont, the
|Cut off the Nose|
The guidelines for head and nose room don't come from complex calculations, they come from how we see - how our visual cortex interacts with and filters the immense rush of visual input and allows us to attend to what is important. All the rules aside, the best way to tell if you have the spacing right is if you don't notice the head and nose room at all.
All of this discussion is just one of the easiest to understand aspect of what is called "negative space", the space around the main subject of an image, which can help balance a composition, draw the eye and provide breathing room for the subject. Stay tuned for more on negative space, as soon as I figure it out.
Just two final points:
- I enjoy shooting at friend's wedding, but I DO NOT do weddings!
And for my daughter - GO BLUE!