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Digital photography technology has made it easy for virtually anyone to take pictures. Recording your growing family and your vacations are certainly good reasons to buy an easy-to-use digital camera. For many other people, photography is an opportunity for artistic expression. To do that requires some technical knowledge of the camera and how it works as well as a subject that formal courses rarely teach and few professionals even know: the basics of image structure.
When you don’t understand, and apply, the concept of image structure to your photography, you are likely to take uninteresting and unimaginative photos. Learning image structure will help you recognize the elements that must be present to transform just another photo into an image that people remember, ask to see again and again and could win contests and generate income.
Image structure refers to the combination and balance of broad underlying colors, shapes and contrasts between light and dark areas of your digital photos. The concept of image structure considers the details of any photo of secondary importance. All photos have details and, unfortunately, that is where too many photographers, amateurs and professionals, focus their attention when composing a picture. Instead, they should be composing according to the components of basic image structure first. Compose with the boldest, broadest and most basic lines and shapes in your image.
The subject of a photo is the primary detail that wastes most photographers’ time and artistic energy. The only value of the subject is to be a creative element in the image structure. The subject is chosen for its shape, color and/or contrast to provide the elements necessary for a good compositional structure. The “life purpose” of the subject is immaterial. At the basic image structure level, a door does not function as a door; instead, it is a rectangle or two squares. From an angle, it is a trapezoid or a truncated triangle. Plus, from a distance, the subject is generally unrecognizable.
Distance from your intended image is one of the keys to understanding and seeing basic image structure in your digital photos. It’s only after the basic image structure of a photo captures the eyes of the viewer from a distance and draws him or her closer do the details become relevant. In fact, the “story” of a photo is actually found in its basic structure, not the details. Without presenting a compelling story through image structure, the details are rendered meaningless.
You’ll know you’ve applied this concept correctly when you can stand as much as a hundred feet from the picture you’ve imagined in your head, with your eyes not in focus and still recognize the basic structure. A thumbnail is another test. A photo that has excellent image structure will still capture your eye as a thumbnail. Neither can you add image structure to an otherwise boring photo with photo editing software or other digital tools.
Although eye path is not a basic structural element of a digital photo, it is necessary to understand how humans view a photograph, painting, etc. to create a compelling photographic structure. Typically, what the human eye sees first is the brightest or most colorful area or the one with the most contrast. From there, the eye will move to the less obvious areas of the photo. If you’ve structured a photo correctly, then a viewer will be attracted to your picture, and remain “within it” for the longest amount of time. To control and prolong their attraction to your photo, compose it with no details in the corners and keep the corners dark, otherwise, the viewer’s eye could wander outside the frame and lose the artistic connection with you and your picture. Make sure the frame doesn’t cut those important basic image structure elements.
It’s easy to think that high-dynamic range (HDR) photography is a solution, but it eliminates light and dark areas. The contrast between those areas is one of the basic image structure elements that every good photo requires. HDR tends to render your photo with various shades of gray, which creates little contrast. That weakens the basic image structure, which leads to boring digital photos.
Forget what you’ve learned about digital photography, until you return to the basics and learn and can apply the concept of image structure. Then, everything you thought you knew will have more value.
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