If we see the rule of thirds as the default, “bread and butter” sort of composition guide, I can think of at least two ways to break that rule and distance your work from it. The first one is to use, against the advice of many photographers, central composition. It is a very natural, simple way of composing an image and generally results in a very “open”, peaceful, calm photograph. You could say it is classic. As I mentioned before, it is also one we instinctively learn first. The second way is completely opposite and perhaps much less “natural” to our eyes, yet one I adore at least as much as central composition. You see, if one naturally expects to find something of importance at the very center of a frame, the very edges of it might be the last place they’d look. And that sense of unexpectedness is perhaps the best part about it.
Any photographer will tell you – you do not take portraits in direct sunlight. It’s ugly. It’s much too contrasty. It wreaks havoc on automatic exposure and tests all sorts of other boring technical aspects of a camera to the limit. It’s difficult to pose in, difficult to see in; it creates dark this and blown out that everywhere and one should always, always avoid it. Look for a shade instead. Find yourself an arc, a tree, anything at all under or inside which you can hide your subject and bathe him/her in smooth, soft, brilliant light. You do not shoot portraits in direct sunlight. Nothing good ever comes out of it.
Sorry, I can’t. That’s rubbish.
After my previous, slightly unorthodox article on improving your photography, here comes another one. And, as you may have guessed from the title, I am about to say some nice things about a type of composition many consider to be downright boring. Here is what I say in return: cliché. When used well, I absolutely adore central composition, there’s nothing else quite like it.
Of course, there is a strong reason why so many photographers, when giving advice to beginners, start with the phrase “don’t put your subject in the middle”. So, in order to see central composition for what it really is, perhaps we should first understand why it’s so avoided. And the reason for it is surprisingly simple.
As with every skill, be it conscious or instinctive, your ability to choose composition for any given moment you wish to capture improves with time, practice and experience. And it’s not just composition, of course, but the sense of light, peak moment, emotion. I strongly believe our photography, from a certain point, represents us not just as artists (especially because not all photographers are inherently artists, which is in no way a bad thing), but also as personalities. Our choice of light, mood, subject and/or object, environment, color and message mirrors that which we like, do not like, how we see, how we live, how we feel. It mirrors our character, for we imprint ourselves in our work, leave a signature made not with ink or light, but with our very essence. And so it is with composition. If you are a calmer person, prefer simple, few things and like your environment tidy, it is likely these personality traits will reflect in your photography and you will seek simple, minimalistic, tidy, static, calm composition choices. If, on the other hand, you are an active, emotional person, there’s a good chance you will take a more dynamic approach to composition with more subjects and perhaps even chaotic arrangement of elements within your work.
Considering the rule of thirds is perhaps the most popular (certainly the best known) way of composing an image, but only a short while ago did it dawn on me that not everyone is familiar with this composition guide. But that’s alright. After all, the first reason why we are here is to learn. What I found slightly worrisome is that we didn’t actually have an article on the rule of thirds. It is about time we rectify the problem.
I will start this giveaway announcement with a short story. Why? Because people working at LoveCases are brilliant. So here it goes. A few months ago, I was contacted by a chap named David on behalf of an UK-based camera bag and accessory store, LoveCases.co.uk. He made a proposal to me – their team would send me a bag of my choice, and I would review it for them. I had nothing against the idea, why would I? There was only one condition that I thought was important we established – no matter what it was that they sent me, my impressions would always be my own, honest and unaffected by anyone else. Just as they would be if I had purchased the product myself. And you know what? A little while later, I wrote this.
During the past several weeks, we’ve been mostly talking about equipment and all sorts of technical aspects of digital photography. We’ve covered the Nikon D810, talked about its dynamic range, discussed the sRAW format, reviewed the Canon 6D and suggested settings for different cameras. We reviewed the Nikon D750 and even the flagship D4 and D4s cameras. I won’t even mention all the ISO comparisons and new equipment impressions. There were plenty more articles and you know what? You liked them. A lot. Which is a huge compliment for us, because of all the effort it took us to prepare them. Having said that, we could not help but notice just how much you liked them… And, at some point, I even thought – perhaps a little too much? Don’t throw stones at me, but are cameras and software always the right aspects of photography to focus on? Alright, saying it’s the wrong one to focus on is perhaps a little too naive. After all, if we did not use our equipment (and to use it one must first learn how to), we would not be able to enjoy photography. And yet it may be that, after so many technical articles, there is something righter (forgive me for coming up with words as I go) that deserves our attention. It may be that we need to balance out the sRAW talk with composition, the camera choices with actual photography. It may be that we need a week of photography and not a single review published. What do you say?
As good as X-Trans sensors are in terms of performance, most software makers have had some trouble with demosaicing the slightly unusual RAW files in the past. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has been noticeably trailing behind in this regard even back when version 5 was introduced, as I found out in the review. That’s not brilliant given that X-Trans has been around for, what, almost three years now? To be completely fair, the paint-like rendering isn’t as much of an issue in most cases as one might think, and yet I can’t help but wish Lightroom was able to render X-Trans RAW files at least as well as Fujifilm does with its in-camera conversion. After all, superior technical image quality is the whole point of RAW, and Lightroom should certainly deliver. So the question is – does it? Since the X-E2 has permanently taken residence in my camera bag and is now my second tool, if not quite the first one yet, I am very curious to see how my favorite RAW converter will perform.
Careful, now. I am about to get technical.
I pick up the camera and, for what feels like a hundredth time, get surprised by its low weight. It’s not what you’d call hollow, more like… tightly packed. There might be a couple of areas where you touch and feel mild disappointment – the control wheel at the back could be metal and the bottom, well, can’t help but wish it felt as cool (literally) and solid as the top of the camera – but only because the rest of it is just so pleasant to hold. It has quickly become a very natural size and shape – that Nikon body, though that much more secure in hand, feels almost unwieldy. It’s not, really, but also is when you compare it to the Fujifilm X-E2. And the dials – save for the aperture ring on the lens, but that is a separate subject – offer very good resistance. In the case of exposure compensation dial, when doing such time-critical types of photography as street, perhaps even a touch too good. It’s not that easy to turn with your thumb whilst holding the camera to your eye. And that is exactly what I am doing right now, bringing it to my eye as my subjects still don’t seem to have noticed me noticing them.
And then another thing happens for what feels like a hundredth time. I did not understand it at first, might not have even noticed my own reaction (since, more often than not, I can’t afford being surprised by something), but after relying so much on an optical viewfinder – be that of the rangefinder Kiev 4AM, my digital Nikon body or medium format Mamiya RZ67 – that EVF feels weird. It’s not bad weird, or good weird for that matter. Just… weird.
It must be snowing in hell – I bought a new camera. After much thought, much going back and forth, much of Nasim-nagging with what I not-so-secretly consider to be the most irrelevant questions, I bought a new camera. But that is not what I want to tell you today. All my impressions will come in due time. This time, though, there will be less talking and more viewing, as the first thing I wanted to do with it was… well, photography. Weird, am I not? And what better place there is to try a small, discreet, quiet camera than the narrow streets of my favourite city, Vilnius.
A side note: although everything I say in this article is indisputable truth, I won’t blame you if you don’t take my word for it all the time.