Nikon D7000, Directing the Viewer’s Eye: A Word About Composition

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As a photographer, it’s your job to lead the viewer through your image. You accomplish this by using the principles of composition, which is the arrangement of elements in the scene that draws the viewer’s eyes through your image and holds his attention. You need to understand how people see and then use that information to focus their attention on the most important elements in your image.

There is a general order in which we look at elements in a photograph. The first is brightness. The eye wants to travel to the brightest object within a scene. So if you have a bright sky, it’s probably the first place the eye will go. The second is sharpness. Sharp, detailed elements get more attention than soft, blurry areas. Finally, the eye will move to vivid colors while leaving the dull, flat colors for last. It is important to know these essentials in order to grab—and keep—the viewer’s attention and then direct him through the frame.

In Figure 7.15, the eye is drawn to the bright splashes of water and the sharply focused rocks in the foreground. From there it is pulled up the river, where the frame gets darker and the eyes come to rest on the mountains and the shore. Finally, they move up into the active sky, starting with the light fluffy clouds and ending in the dark blue at the very top of the frame.

I enjoy fly-fishing the Madison River in Montana so much that I decided to photograph my favorite trout stream. Standing in the water with my waders on, I took this shot of the river. When composing it I wanted the viewer’s eye to be drawn into the image and pulled up to the mountains and the wispy clouds above.
Figure 7.15 I enjoy fly-fishing the Madison River in Montana so much that I decided to photograph my favorite trout stream. Standing in the water with my waders on, I took this shot of the river. When composing it I wanted the viewer’s eye to be drawn into the image and pulled up to the mountains and the wispy clouds above.

Rule of thirds

There are quite a few philosophies concerning composition. The easiest to begin with is the “rule of thirds.” Using this principle, you simply divide your viewfinder into thirds by imagining two horizontal and two vertical lines that divide the frame equally.

The key to using this method of composition is to have your main subject located at or near one of the intersecting points (Figure 7.16).

I wanted to show all the dead trees in the paint pot at Yellowstone National Park, so I decided to compose the image with the nearest tree in the bottom right quadrant. This created a more compelling composition than centering the tree.
Figure 7.16 I wanted to show all the dead trees in the paint pot at Yellowstone National Park, so I decided to compose the image with the nearest tree in the bottom right quadrant. This created a more compelling composition than centering the tree.

By placing your subject near these intersecting lines, you are giving the viewer space to move within the frame. The one thing you normally don’t want to do is put your subject smack-dab in the middle of the frame, sometimes referred to as “bull’s-eye” composition. Centering the subject is not always wrong, but it will usually be less appealing and may not hold the viewer’s attention.

Speaking of the middle of the frame: Another rule of thirds deals with horizon lines. Generally speaking, you should position the horizon one-third of the way up or down in the frame. Splitting the frame in half by placing your horizon in the middle of the picture is akin to placing the subject in the middle of the frame; it doesn’t lend a sense of importance to either the sky or the ground.

In Figure 7.17, I incorporated the rule of thirds by aligning my horizon in the bottom third of the frame and the sky and steam in the top third. I also placed the river in the foreground to draw the eye to the bottom third of the frame, giving the viewer a chance to travel throughout the frame, ending on the steam, sky, and bright sun. The top two thirds contain the sky and the steam rising from the geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park.

 Putting the horizon of this image at the bottom third of the frame places emphasis on steam rising from the geothermal features in the landscape.
Figure 7.17 Putting the horizon of this image at the bottom third of the frame places emphasis on steam rising from the geothermal features in the landscape.

The D7000 has two visual tools for assisting you in composing your photo in the form of grid overlays. These grids can be set to appear in the viewfinder and on the rear LCD when in Live View mode.

Using a grid overlay in the viewfinder

Using a grid overlay in the viewfinder

  1. Press the Menu button, then use the Multi-selector to navigate to the Custom Settings menu and select D Shooting/Display.
  2. Navigate to D2 Viewfinder Grid Display, press OK, set the feature to On, and press OK.

Using a grid overlay in Live View

  1. Rotate the Live View switch to turn on Live View.
  2. Press the Info button until the grid appears on the viewfinder.

Although the grid in the viewfinder and the Live View screen aren’t equally divided into thirds, they will give you an approximation of where you should be aligning your subjects in the frame.

Creating depth

Because a photograph is a flat, two-dimensional space, you need to establish a sense of depth by using the elements in the scene to create a three-dimensional feel. This is accomplished by including different and distinct spaces for the eye to travel to: a foreground, middle ground, and background. By using these three spaces, you draw the viewer in and give your image depth.

This scene of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Figure 7.18, illustrates this well. The hills in the foreground as well as my point of view helped create a sense of height. The faraway, flat horizon seems miles away, while the sunlight beaming through hit the small rock outcropping right in the center of the frame. All of these factors helped give the image depth and made it feel three-dimensional.

I was visiting the Badlands on a stormy day. There was a break in the clouds where the sunlight was coming through and shining on a small rock outcropping in the distance. The rain increased the colors in the striations of the rock, adding contrast and visual interest.
Figure 7.18 I was visiting the Badlands on a stormy day. There was a break in the clouds where the sunlight was coming through and shining on a small rock outcropping in the distance. The rain increased the colors in the striations of the rock, adding contrast and visual interest.